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A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

An English Translation of

Imn F Aqsm al-Qurn

Hamd al-Dn Farh

Translated by
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi

AL-MAWRID
51-K Model Town, Lahore

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

Contents

Translators Note 1
Introduction 5
Three Questions on the Qurnic Oaths 7
Imm Rzs Viewpoint 9
Ibn Qayyims Viewpoint 16
Plan of the Present Book 21
History, Form, Meaning and Use of Oath 23
Object is not Essential to Oath 31
Meaning of Oath used with the Object 35
Honorific Oath 39
Oath Sanctifying the Object 42
Argumentative Oath 52
Argumentative Oath in Demosthenes 57
Argumentative Oath in Eupolis 59
Evidentiary Significations of Argumentative Oath 61
Evidence from the Qurn 63
Causes of Obscurity of the Correct View 69
Rhetorical Aspect and Intricacies of Oath 73
Desirable and Undesirable Oath 84
Evangelical Prohibition of Oath 87
Wisdom behind Specificness of the Command 92
Proper Use of Different Oath Formulas 96
Conclusion 98

Translators Note
This is a translation of a monograph titled Imn f Aqsm alQurn by Hamd al-Dn Farh. The author conceived it as one
of the introductions to his unfinished commentary on the Holy
Qurn, later published as Nizm al-Qurn. This book discusses
some issues attending the uses of oaths in the Qurn.
The Qurn employs oaths frequently in order to affirm a
claim-statement. In the Qurn, the Almighty has sworn by
Himself and by many of His creations (for instance the sun,
moon, stars, winds, fruits, towns, etc). These occasions in the
Qurn have engendered questions that have baffled the
commentators from the earliest times who, while trying to
explain the scriptural text, appear to be grappling with the
difficult questions on the nature and significance of these oaths
questions that are rooted either in the Muslim expectation related
to the relationship between the oath-taker and the subject of the
oaths or in the peculiar semantic conclusions, which almost
always accompany an oath in Arabic language. These questions
unavoidably force themselves upon the commentators because of
a number of reasons:
1. In the ordinary course of language, oaths are taken to
emphasize and register the truth of ones statement, by invoking
something holy. Linguistically and religiously, an oath-taker
always swears an oath by a higher being that is nobler than and
distanced from the oath-taker. The oath draws strength from the
grace, sanctity, nobility, taboo or holiness of the being by which
it is taken. In other words, an oath-taker implicitly belittles his
being in comparison with the being by which he takes an oath.
This is apparently done to attach significance and truth-claim to
the proposition following the oath by drawing epistemological
strength from the unquestioned sanctity or widely accorded
reverence for such a being. The ordinary creatures of God are
way below the Divine station and it is even blasphemous to
compare the Creator with His creations. Therefore, many

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

Qurnic oaths, particularly those which are sworn by created


beings, do not fit well in the Divine text. Oaths are
conventionally sworn by sacred objects. However, in the Qurn,
on many occasions, the Almighty swears by ordinary,
insignificant and so to say profane things. How could God
draw epistemological strength from petty beings? And why
should God Almighty seek reinforcement for Himself in the first
instance? In short, if these oaths are understood in the light of the
widely held Muslim beliefs and linguistic practices in the Arabic
speaking world, oaths do not appear to be in accord with the
exalted position of Allah, who is the highest and noblest of all.
2. In the Qurn, the Almighty has taken oaths to affirm a
number of propositions; many of them constitute the
fundamental Islamic beliefs. These beliefs cannot be verified by
the mere force of oaths. If these belief-claims could be
established independently, as is widely held, through other
means (rational, theological, historical or psychological), the
oaths would become redundant. If the truth of these articles of
faith cannot be established through common epistemological
means, it can hardly be expected that these can be proven on the
strength of the oaths. For the oaths do not prove or establish
these assertions. At least to a non-believer in these beliefs, oaths
constitute purposeless insistence only.
3. Islam has taught the believers not to swear by anything other
than the Glorious God. A Muslim is not expected to swear an
oath by anything other than God. The question then is, if the
believers are not allowed to swear by created beings, why does
God almighty swear oaths by the names of the cities, the sun, the
moon, and the fruits?
Where do these questions come from? Farh does not cite the
source, nor do the earlier authorities who tried to deal with them
first. These questions are faced by every careful reader of the
Divine text as they are inspired by human reason. Many exegetes
and other scholars have tried to explain them. However, no
coherent, well-defined and concrete approach has ever been
offered to resolve the difficulty of determining the precise
purpose of the Qurnic oaths. It was, therefore, not necessary
for the purpose of Farh to investigate the genesis of these
objections, who found in them an opportunity to inquire into the
nature of oaths and the purpose they were wont to serve since

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

earliest times. Farhs contribution stands out in the background


of the fact that despite a lot of space these questions occupy in
medieval Muslim writers, they were apparently not able to
formulate a consistent response.
As usual, Farh adopts a principled stance and offers a
coherent and cogent explanation of the Qurnic oaths. He traced
the origin of the oaths, surveyed the conventions, and, based on
his findings in this quest, established that glorification of the
object of oath is not a necessary objective of an oath. In this way
the problematic oaths, sworn by insignificant created things, are
satisfactorily explained. It is interesting to note that Farh not
only invokes the testimony of the Qurnic text and classical
Arabic literature, but also draws from the non-Arabic sources
(for instance classical Greek and Biblical Hebrew) to understand
that oaths do not essentially involve glorification of the objects
sworn by. Rather, these are basically a kind of evoking the object
as evidence to the veracity of the claims that are intended.
In the present translation I have tried to explain instances in the
original Arabic text which I thought might pose difficulties for a
modern reader. I have also tried to provide brief definitions of
terms I thought belonged to highly specialized disciplines, which
a modern reader is not expected to be familiar with. Farh, as is
characteristic of his times, seldom gives references for the works
he cites. I have tried my best to find out the original references,
even though my efforts were not always successful. Footnotes
have been added to admit my failures too. I have also tried to use
the original Arabic terms where possible or to put them in
parenthesis so that the reader may refer to the original term. I
must also gratefully acknowledge that in my effort to translate
the original Arabic text I have made extensive use of Mawln
Amn Ahsan Islhs Urdu translation of the work, published in
1975 by Anjuman Khuddm al-Qurn from Lahore.
I gratefully acknowledge the assistance I got from my teachers,
colleagues and friends that went a long way towards the
completion of the present work. Mr Talib Mohsin and Mr Sajid
Hameed have helped me make out a few complex passages in
the original Arabic text. I constantly engaged with Mr Sajid
Hameed in understanding pieces of jhil poetry quoted by the
author. Mr Nadir Aqueel Ansari and Mr Jhangeer Hanif have
helped in many ways in researching the cited sources, editing the

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

translation and by extending valuable suggestions. Mr Shehzad


Saleem was generous enough to review a few sections of the
translation. Mr. Asif Iftikhar has always been there with his
words of encouragement. Mr Manzoor ul-Hassan provided the
necessary logistic and administrative support for getting this
work published as did Mr Azeem Ayub and all the support staff
of al-Mawrid, who contributed towards the publication of this
work. My gratitude is due to all of them. In fact, I cannot be
thankful enough. And I would be deeply indebted to the readers
too, if they could suggest improvements in the translation,
which, by all means, is not the last word.
Tariq Mahmood Hashmi
Al-Mawrid, Lahore
2008.
_______________

Section: 1

Introduction
Glory to the Lord, to whose lordship every creature testifies
through its very existence; sun sings His glory; moon prostrates
itself before Him; the land takes refuge in Him, its peaks as well
as valleys; oceans turn to Him in their ebbs and flows, as has
been attested by the Lord in His book: Glorify Him the heavens,
all seven of them, and the earth and what lies in them. There is
nothing which does not glorify Him through His praises. (Q
17:47) I implore Gods blessings upon Muhammad, the chosen
Messenger of God and His servant, upon his family and his
Companions, who held fast to the divine rope and covenant, and
upon their successors, who followed a just and balanced path.
This book studies the Qurnic oaths. It is a part of the
introductions (muqaddamahs) to my commentary on the Qurn
titled Nizm al-Qurn wa Tawl al-Furqn bi al-Furqn. These
introductions cover principles of interpretation and help us avoid
repetition of these discussions during interpretation of the Divine
text. Oaths frequently occur in the Qurn. Their meanings and
wisdom have remained unclear to the earlier exegetes. This gave
rise to certain questions on the use of oaths in the Qurn. It
would not be possible to repeat such fundamental discussions on
every occasion an oath occurs. It should be noted that my
commentary on the Qurn is characterized by brevity rather
than detail. This requires a comprehensive yet short treatment of
the oaths of the Qurn in a separate discussion. Detailed
analysis and explanation of the Qurnic oaths shall be afforded
in the commentary on the relevant verses.
I do not know if there is a treatise by the earlier scholars on the
issue except for Kitb al-Tibyn by Allmah Ibn Qayyim.1
1. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Shams al-Dn Muhammad b. Ab Bakr,
Al-Tibyn f Aqsm al-Qurn, ed. Th Ysuf Shhn (Cairo: n.d).

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

Imm Rz or whoever completed his exegesis after him2 also


discussed the issue in their commentary. I intend to quote both
these works during the course of discussion wherever the context
allows me. May Allh guide me to the correct understanding of
the issue!
_______________

2. Rz, Fakhr al-Dn, Tafsr al-Kabr, 4th ed., (Qum: Markaz alNashr Maktab al-Ilm al-Islm, n.d.).
It is believed that Imm Rzi could not complete his commentary.
The task was accomplished after his death probably by Qd Shihb alDn b. Khall al-Khawl al-Dimashq (d. 639 AH) or Shaykh Najm alDn Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Qaml (d. 777 AH).

Section: 2

Three Questions on the Qurnic Oaths


Since this discussion primarily targets clarification of certain
questions and objections against the Qurnic oaths, I will start
with a mention of them. It needs to be appreciated that there are
different kinds of objections leveled on the Qurnic oaths. They
are the following:
i. An oath, by nature, does not behove the glorious Lord. An
oath-swearer belittles himself. He puts himself on the stead of
an unreliable person. The Qurn says: Do not yield to any
mean oath-monger. (Q 68:10) This verse implies that swearing
an oath is condemnable. Jesus Christ (sws) forbade taking an
oath altogether. He said to his followers: Let your Yes be
Yes, and your No, No, never swear an oath. (Matthew
5:37)
ii. Oaths in the Qurn have been used to ratify fundamental
beliefs, including the unicity of God, last retribution and the
institution of prophethood. Oaths are of no use in affirming
these beliefs. An oath neither successfully satisfies believers
nor does it convince the rejecters. The rejecters need
arguments and evidence, which the oaths lack. The believers,
on the other hand, already have faith in these beliefs. Taking
an oath serves no purpose.
iii. People never take an oath except by something exalted
and glorious. The Prophet (sws) has said: Whoever swears
an oath should swear it by God or keep silence. (Bukhr
No: 3624) This clearly forbids taking an oath by anything
other than God. How is it then becoming of God, the Lord of
the world, to swear by His creatures and also by ordinary
things like the fig and the olive?

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

These are the objections leveled on the Qurnic oaths. I will


first mention the response by Imm Rz and other earlier
authorities to these objections. I shall then comment on their
responses. I shall try to explain their shortcomings so that the
reader stands guarded against sticking to obviously weak
stances. For relying on weak and untenable stance greatly
damages the true position on the religious issues. Besides, in the
matter of the religion, such weak standings are vulnerable to the
attacks of the opponents. By explaining the weakness of the view
of the earlier authorities, I do not mean to disparage their
contribution. I only intend to bring the reality of the matter to
light. I ask God to reward these scholars for their efforts towards
defending what they believed to be true. I beseech God to accept
me among the defenders of the truth.
_______________

Section: 3

Imm Rzs Viewpoint


Imm Rz refers to the second of the above mentioned
questions while explaining Srah al-Sfft (Q. 37) and responds
to it in the following way:
This question requires a multifaceted answer. First, God has,
through conclusive arguments, established tawhd (unicity of
God), the Afterlife, and the Retribution in other srahs. These
fundamental beliefs have, therefore, already been established.
The arguments proving them are still fresh in the minds of the
readers. It is, therefore, sufficient to merely mention these
beliefs with the stress supplied by the oaths. It should be
appreciated that the Qurn was revealed in the language of
the Arabs. Affirming claims and assertions through an oath
was a common Arab custom.3
Imm Rz refers to the fact that the Qurn was revealed in the
language of the Arabs. He states that swearing was a convention
in that society. He refers to these facts in order to respond to the
first question mentioned above.
I believe what he means to say is that since the oath follows
conclusive arguments and builds on them, the claims made in the
verses rely primarily on the arguments furnished earlier and not
on these oaths which are employed merely for reaffirmation as
was customary to the Arabs. I find this position in clear
contradiction to the Qurn. We know that the Qurnic oaths are
found more in the earlier srahs than in the later revelations
which came after the arguments for these beliefs were fully
supplemented.
The second aspect of his explanation follows:
3. Rzi, Tafsr al-Kabr, 26: 118.

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First the Almighty swore by these things in order to prove the


statement: Your God is one. (Q 37:4) Soon afterwards, He
mentioned something which functions as a conclusive
argument for the unicity of God. He says: Lord of the
heavens and the earth, and what lies between them, and the
Lord of the east. (Q 37:5) This argument has been put
plainly elsewhere in the following words: If there were
therein gods beside Allah, then, verily both would have been
disordered. (Q 21:22) The harmonious arrangement of the
heavens and the earth bears witness to that God is one. Thus,
the complement of oath, indeed your Lord is one (Q 37:4),
has been followed by, Lord of the heavens and the earth, and
whatever lies between them, Lord of the east. (Q 37:5) The
whole can thus be paraphrased as follows: We have already
made it clear that the arrangement of this universe points to
the unicity of its God. So ponder over this fact so that you
may obtain the knowledge of tawhd.4
The crux of this answer is this. The oath in this instance has
been followed by a statement that contains an argument proving
the sworn fact. The point of argument, therefore, is contained in
the statement and not the oath that prefaces it. The oath only
adds emphasis to the statement. We see that this response to the
objections against the Qurnic oaths is identical to the earlier
one. Both of these fail to explain the wisdom behind diverse
kinds of oaths. One wonders why not to take an oath by God
Almighty Himself instead of swearing by these ordinary things.
Rz continues:
The third aspect of our response follows. The basic purpose
of this statement is to negate the belief of the idolaters that
idols are their gods as if it has been said: Their view has
receded to weakness and abatement to a level that such a
[weak] argument suffices to disprove it. God knows best.5
This is clearly a nave explanation. At first he holds that oaths
do not contain elements of argumentation. Then he maintains
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

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that the view of the opponents was so absurd that it could be


negated by a statement almost devoid of any argument.
While discussing the wisdom behind the use of oath, under the
commentary on the opening verses of Srah al-Dhriyt (Q. 51),
he has again discussed issues which contain an explanation to the
question under discussion. He says:
We have referred to the wisdom in employing the oaths in our
commentary on the oath formulas occurring in Srah alSfft (Q. 37). This is indeed a very noble discussion
covering sublime themes. I intend to repeat that here. These
oaths have many aspects which follow:
First, the disbelievers, at times, confessed that the Prophet
(sws) would prevail in arguments. However, they ascribed his
triumph to his polemical skills. They maintained that he was
aware of the invalidity of his statements. He defeats us
through his polemics and not because of truthfulness of his
case, they would say. This is what someone defeated in an
argument might say when left with no argument to support
his view. Such a loser complains: He (my adversary) has
defeated me by his skill of argumentation for I am not that
adept in the art. He knows that truth lies with me. At this
stage, the one with clear proofs is forced to opt for an oath.
He, therefore, is forced to say: I tell the truth. I am not
arguing for falsehood. This is because if he offers another
argument to support his view the contender would again
complain. He would claim that his opponent defeated him
through his polemical skills. Thus the man arguing for the
truth has no option but to remain silent or to swear an oath
and abandon further argumentation.6
This response from Imm Rz mixes sound arguments with
unsound ones. It negates what he earlier said while commenting
on the Srah al-Safft (Q. 37) where, under the second aspect of
his explanation, he asserted that the Qurnic oaths always
follow arguments and stress the argued point. However, what he
stated in his commentary on Srah al-Sfft (Q. 37) is in fact
true. The Qurn does not stop on an oath. Rather it follows the
6. Ibid., 28: 193.

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oaths with some other assertions. Rz has gone too far here. He
could have maintained that sometimes mere argument does not
help because the opponents fail to understand the arguments and
can complain that the contender is using captivating eloquence
and is too confident in what he holds. In such situations it is
more appropriate for one to blend the arguments with an oath.
This position would have been quite sound.
Imm Rz further comments:
Second, the Arabs always avoided taking oaths falsely. They
believed that false oaths would cause adversities to strike them.
Their lands would be left barren. The Prophet (sws) mostly
swore oaths by highly exalted things. This made the Arabs
believe that if proved wrong, he would meet great perils; he
would not escape the consequences of such an unworthy act.7
Imm Rz, in this response, seems to have pointed towards the
fact that swearing oaths was a norm among the Arabs. He is, in
fact, right. However, by adding that the Prophet (sws) too
considered swearing oaths falsely as something ominous and
calamitous, he ignored the following facts:
i. Few Qurnic oaths are oaths of glorification.
ii. The Qurn clearly guides us not to fear anything other
than God.
iii. What evil can result from desecrating insignificant objects
like the fig and the olive by swearing by them falsely?8
iv. The Qurn was communicated to the Holy Prophet (sws)
from the Almighty. The oaths form part of the Qurn, the
word of God. These are not the word of the Prophet
Muhammad (sws). The author of the Qurn, it is clear,
does not fear anything.
Rz could have remained content with the first part of his
statement which states that the Arabs would refrain from taking
7. Ibid.
8. The fig and the olive are among those objects by which God
Almighty has sworn oaths in the Qurn. 95:1-3 read: By the fig, the
olive, the mount of Sinai, and this city of security.

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untrue oaths for they feared the consequences of such an act.


They believed that an honorable man cannot take an untrue oath.
When someone lent emphasis to his statement by the help of an
oath, the Arabs hearkened to him. This would have elevated his
view to a kind of response to the first and the second question,
albeit a weak one. What he said later, indeed, has made the
whole statement meaningless.
Now I turn to the third part of Rzs response to the questions.
He writes:
Third, all the oaths the Almighty has taken, are arguments
formulated in this form. It can be compared to a statement by
a donee to his benefactor wherein the former swears saying:
By all the bounties and favors you have bestowed upon me I
am grateful. The continuous bounties the oath-swearer has
been receiving are a constant cause for the perpetual gratitude
he shows. Such a statement follows the design of an oath.
Similarly, all of these things (i.e., things by which the oaths
have been taken in the beginning of Srah al-Dhriyt (Q. 51)
evidence Gods power to resurrect. Why this claim has been
presented in the form of an oath? Our response to this
question follows. When a man prefaces his saying by an oath,
the audience realizes that he intends to say something serious
and solemn; this makes them hearken to him. The Almighty
has, therefore, started the srah with an oath and has
expressed the arguments in the form of an oath.9
This sufficiently explains away the second objection. However,
it is upon the upholder of this view to explain the nature of the
argument for the assertions found in the objects by which the
oath is being taken. The argumentative nature of the Qurnic
oaths, though obvious in some instances, requires a great
deliberation in most cases. This is probably why Rz has relied
on this explanation only in Srah al-Dhriyt (Q. 51) and in
some other instance. In most other cases, he has explained them
in two ways:
First, wherever possible he rejects the fact that an oath has been
taken in the first place. This he does only to escape the questions
on the use of oaths. He adopted this approach while explaining
9. Ibid., 194.

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the word l (no, never) occurring in the first verse of Srah alQiymah (Q. 75) of the Qurn. He says:
The second possibility is that the particle l negates what
follows it. In other words, it has been said: I do not swear by
a particular day and the soul (nafs). Contrarily, I ask you
without taking an oath. Do you think that We will not be able
to collect your bones once they will be decayed by death? If
so then know that we are very able to accomplish that. This
is the view of Ab Muslim and is the soundest.10
This interpretation cannot be accepted by an expert of the
language of the Arabs. If the Almighty intended what Imm Rz
believes, then what could be said, at best, is that the statement
absolutely negates taking an oath by the unparticular things like
reproaching self (nafs), the stars that withdraw (al-khunnas) and
which rush ahead (al-jawr) and hide (al-kunnas) etc. This is
also in variation with the customary style of expression. The
Arabs use the word l before an oath as disjointed particle. This
issue has been explained in our commentary on the srah.
Zamakhshar holds the same view.11
At times Rz eludes criticism by saying that the oaths are used
merely for the sake of stress and alerting the audience on the
gloriousness of the thing sworn by. In his commentary on Srah
al-Dhriyt (Q. 51), he says: You know that the basic objective
of this oath is to point out the exaltedness of the muqsam bih.12
He adopted the same approach in his commentary on Srah alTn (Q. 95). He says:
There is a difficulty here. The fig and the olive are not
glorious things. How does it become God to swear by them?
This question can be solved in two ways.13

10. Ibid., 30: 215.


11. Zamakhshar, Mahmd b. Umar, al-Kashshf, 3rd ed., vol. 4
(Beirut: Dr al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 2003), 645-6.
12. There is a proof error in the text. The referred to statement forms
part of Rzs commentary on Srah al-Mursalt. See Rz, Tafsr alKabr, 30: 264.
13. Ibid., 32: 8.

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Then he sets upon explaining usefulness of the fig and the olive
assuming that the srah refers to particular fruits. Alternatively,
he takes them to be referring to two mosques or holy cities and
explains their glory. One can see that adhering to these answers,
which are obviously faulty, does not remove the third objection
on the use of oaths in the Qurn. Even if we assume that an oath
is always taken by a glorious thing the issue is not resolved. The
Book swears by many things including the runners breathing and
panting (al-diyt dabhan), (Q 100:1) the stars that withdraw
(al-khunnas) and which rush ahead (al-jawr) and hide (alkunnas), (Q 81: 15-6) night (layl), morning (al-subh), (Q 81:178) the fig (al-tn) and the olive (al-zaytn). (Q 95:1) None of
these things contains any element of gloriousness for which their
creator should swear by them.
_______________

Section: 4

Ibn Qayyims Viewpoint


Allmah Ibn Qayyim does not introduce the objections on the
use of oaths by the Qurn before explaining them. He positively
explains the oaths of the Qurn. While doing so he points
towards facts which remove the germs of confusion and explain
away objections on the Qurnic oaths. His response, I believe, is
relatively strong. However, he too, like Rz, fails to follow a
single explanation and oscillates between two parallel
approaches. While commenting on the srahs which contain any
particular oath he jumps from one view to another.
What follows is a summary of his response along with my
comments on it.
It is important to appreciate that Ibn Qayyim adopts inductive
approach. He starts with mentioning that oaths are basically
taken only by God, His attributes and His signs. He writes:
He, the glorious one, swears by certain things to establish
some points. He usually swears either by His own name,
which has peculiar attributes, or by His signs. Thus, by
swearing by some of His creatures He has taught us these
things are His great signs.14
After presenting some examples he continues:
It needs to be appreciated that the Almighty swears to
establish fundamental beliefs which men must acknowledge.
He swears to affirm that God is one (tawhd); that the Qurn
is true; that the Prophet (sws) is truthful; that final retribution
is sure to come; that warnings in this regard are not empty
threats. Sometimes He swears to affirm the status of men.15
14. Ibn Qayyim, Al-Tibyn f Aqsm al-Qurn, 3.
15. Ibid., 4.

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According to Ibn Qayyim, the Qurnic oaths are limited to


three matters of great religious import. These three issues then
converge into a single one: the attributes of God, as we shall
soon see. After this introduction, he does not feel a need to
investigate the jawb al-qasam (complement of oath) for he has
already identified the thing sworn of, i.e. belief in unicity of
God, prophethood, and the Last Day. The oaths themselves
prove these beliefs. While treating the oaths in the beginning of
the Srah al- diyt (Q. 100) and Srah al-Asr (Q. 103) he
writes:
The complement of the oath has been left unstated because
what is being affirmed by the oaths is already understood (i.e.
tawhd, Prophethood, and the Last Judgment). Each among
these three entails the others (they are mutalzimah). Thus
when the veracity of the Messenger is established, the Qurn
and the Last Judgment stand proven. When it is established
that the Qurn is true, the Messengers claim to be a divine
Prophet and all the claims of the Book, including the power
of God (to resurrect), are ratified. Therefore, the complement
of oath is sometimes left unstated. It is taken for granted. In
this case, the intention of the author is not to mention what is
sworn of. Rather the only purpose of swearing the oath is to
produce tazm (glorification, exaltation) of the muqsam bih
and to teach that it is a thing by which one may swear an
oath.16
These things, according to him, lead to His sublime attributes.
This is clear from his treatment of the oaths occurring in the start
of Srah al-Burj (Q. 85) where he says: All these things are
signs of His power which evidence His unicity.17
Following this, he says:
The best explanation is that this oath does not need any
complement because in this case the only intention is to
highlight the muqsam bih and to make it clear that it is
16. Ibid., 7-8.
17. Ibid., 56.

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among the great signs of God.18


Similarly while dealing with the oaths occurring in the
beginning of Srah al-Talq (Q. 65) he writes:
The Almighty has sworn by the heavens and the shining stars,
each of which is one of the signs that affirm His unicity.19
Then while treating the oaths occurring in the middle of the
same Srah he says:
God has sworn by the heavens which showers rains and by
the earth which in turn produces vegetations. All these things
are the signs of God that prove His providence.20
He has repeated the same thing while treating the oaths
occurring in the end of Srah al-Inshiqq (Q. 84). He writes:
These (i.e. twilight, night and moon) and other similar things
constitute signs which evidence Gods providence. They call
us to appreciate His perfect attributes. 21
While dealing with the complement of these oaths, he says:
It is possible that the complement of this oath is left unstated.22
This oath does not require a complement for, according to him,
that is already understood in defined form.
The above discussion helps us see the difference between the
view of Rz, who offers different contradictory responses, and
that of Ibn Qayyim, who adopts a single method to explain all
the Qurnic oaths. The method of Ibn Qayyim, I believe, is
relatively sounder.
Now I wish to explain the basic function behind Ibn Qayyims
method. He draws on two bases.
First, God Almighty has sworn by Himself and also by His
18. Ibid., 57.
19. Ibid., 63.
20. Ibid., 67.
21. Ibid., 69.
22. Ibid., 70.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

19

signs. Swearing by created things is nothing but another form of


swearing by God. For these things are His creatures. They are
signs of His providence.
He has thus intended to explain away the third objection
mentioned above which rests on the claim that swearing an oath
by ordinary things, which are obviously creatures of God, means
raising them above the Creator Himself. However, the question
has remained unanswered. The oaths evidently concern the
creatures and not the Creator. The fact that they are His signs
and lead us to His attributes does not, after all, change their
status of being a muqsam bih.
Consider his statement where he says that the complement of
oath is sometimes left unstated, for it is taken for granted. In
such cases, he holds, the intention of the oath-taker is not to
mention what is sworn of (muqsam alayhi). Rather the only
purpose of the statement is to produce tazm (glorification,
exaltation) of the muqsam bih. It also teaches us that one can
swear by the stated muqsam bih. The above clearly proves that
God has sworn by other than Himself with an intention to attach
glory to them. The crux of his statement, therefore, would again
be that God has sworn by these things considering their glory
and exaltedness. I believe there is nothing wrong with the idea
that God attaches dignity and honor to some of His creations.
Nor do I object to the belief that some of His creatures are
glorious and exalted. Many small things are great and many
insignificant things are noble when seen from different
perspectives. What needs to be explained is that the status of
created things has been raised to the point that the Almighty
should swear an oath by them.
Second, all the oaths evidence the fact mentioned in the
muqsam alayhi. By this thesis he has intended to explain away
the second objection. Rz too, as we saw, endeavored to do so
when he mentioned this point among others. However he (Rz)
never relied on this explanation consistently. As for Ibn Qayyim
he fully relied on this basis. He explains most of the Qurnic
oaths in a way that shows that the muqsam bih evidences the
muqsam alayhi. When, however, in some instances, he found it
difficult to relate the muqsam alayhi and muqsam bih he
declared the former as left unstated. In such cases, he considered
the oaths as evidencing the attributes of God among other points

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

20

as I have mentioned earlier.


Despite the weakness of his response and his occasional
remarks that the oaths have been brought in order to glorify the
muqsam bih, he has been right and proficient or at least, one can
say, he has been proficient in more than one place during the
entire discussion.
_______________

Section: 5

Plan of the Present Book


An exposure to the views of the earlier authorities on the
Qurnic oaths must have, I believe, led you to learn that the best
view they held in this regard is that the oaths evidence certain
theses. However, the problem that remained hidden to these
scholars and the bottleneck they could not escape from is their
adherence to the belief that the oaths decidedly consist of
glorification of the muqsam bih. This is the error which proved
to be a great hindrance in the proper understanding of the
Qurnic oaths. It is this belief that is the headspring of all the
objections (shubht). I will, therefore, start with negating this
belief so that it becomes clear that the oaths have nothing to do
with glorification of the muqsam bih, though some of the
muqsam bihs may be glorified things.
I shall then explain that when the Qurn swears an oath by the
created things it presents the things sworn by (muqsam bihs) as
evidences for the sworn statements (muqsam alayhis). Such
evidentiary oaths form a category which is distinct from oaths of
glorification (al-aqsm al-tazmiyyah). The Qurnic oaths, in
my view, are not sworn by attributes of God, as held by Ibn
Qayyim.
Then I shall turn to explain in what instances an oath may be
taken and at what others, it is better avoided. This will help us
understand that it is not right to say that swearing an oath is
absolutely prohibited.
Discussions in this book will revolve around these three points.
Since this issue calls for detailed and exhaustive treatment, at
points, I have been forced to discuss the history of oath and its
social function, both in the past and present, and its various
forms. I will also explain the meaning of the particles of oath,
oath formulas, their basic meaning and implications, including
respect (ikrm), sanctification (taqds) and argumentation

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

22

(istidll); all these three are distinct from glorification.


I will explain the oaths in the light of clear proofs from the
Qurnic verses and explain why this explanation has remained
hidden so that the great scholars of the past are excused. Then
some rhetorical aspects of the Qurnic oaths will be highlighted.
I will also discuss in what aspects taking an oath is forbidden,
what instances it is allowable, and in what other places, it is
desirable. The directive of prohibition of taking an oath ascribed
to the Prophet Jesus (sws) will also be elucidated. A fair
treatment of the Qurnic rhetorical excellence exhibited in its
choice of words for oath also forms part of this discussion. This
will clarify what kinds of words are not appropriate for oath.
The above is a brief plan of the present book. Now I turn to
deal with these issues in detail. God alone is the guide to the
truth.
_______________

Section: 6

History, Form, Meaning and Use of Oath


Sometimes one needs to stress a statement or to emphasize
promises in order to convince his audience. This is especially
demanding in serious interpersonal, national, international and
collective matters. When two persons, two nations, or a ruler and
his subjects contract a treaty they consider it of utmost
importance to assert that they are committed to their pledge by
means of an oath. Thus they come to trust each other and
differentiate between their allies and the opponents and between
their protectors and enemies.
This social and cultural need called them to devise ways and
select certain words which could depict such assertions. The
original function of oath is to reaffirm and solidify a statement.
Ancients expressed their commitments by taking the right
hands of the other party. This practice remained customary
among the Romans, the Arabs and the Hebrews. By taking the
hand of the other party, one externalized his commitment and
stressed his vows. This act signified that both the parties vowed
to stay tied together on the given affair and pledged their right
hands on it. It was because of this custom that the word yamn
(literally: right hand) came to denote an oath. This fact has been
clearly put by some of the poets. Jasss b. Murrah says:
I will fulfill the rights of my neighbor. My hands are pledged
as surety for what I commit (yad rahnun fil).23
From this
and surety.
practice of
contracting

practice the oath acquired the meaning of guarantee


This signification of the oath is still present in the
shaking hands, clapping and striking hands while
a deal. This practice is still current among the

23. Abd al-Azz Nabaw (compiler), Dwn Ban Bakr f alJhiliyyah, 1st ed. (Cairo: Dr al-Zahr li al-Nashr, 1989), 395.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

24

Romans and the Indians. This is further corroborated by the fact


that in Hebrew also the word yamn is used to connote an oath.
Psalms 144:8 reads:
Those whose mouths utter evil things and their oaths are false
oaths.
The original Hebrew words are: ( ) I
wonder why the English translators failed to understand this
meaning and translated the verse as follows: Their right hand is
the false right hand.24
They failed to appreciate that the word yamn, in this context,
connotes oath and translated it literally. This is an outrageously
erroneous interpretation and proves that these translators of the
Bible did not try enough to understand Hebrew, the original
language of the Scripture. What is astonishing is that they did not
mend this clear mistake in their recent efforts to improve the
earlier translations.
Another example is found in the Proverbs. The Prophet
Sulaymn (sws) says:
My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, if you
have stricken your hands for a stranger. (Proverbs 6:1)
This proves that the Arabs and Hebrews followed a similar
tradition of formalizing contracts and undertaking commitments.
That is why the word yamn signifies an oath in Hebrew as well
as in Arabic.
When a large number of people were involved in a contract, all
would dip their right hands in water. Since all hands touched the
water pot, they took it to mean that all have taken the hands of
each other and agreed on a matter of mutual interest. Water is the
best thing to touch. It sticks with other substances best of all.
They say balla (literally: moisted) bi al-shayi yad to mean
24. Farh is probably referring to KJV, which reads: Whose mouths
are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful. However, not all
versions of the Psalms have the same translation. For instance, In
Tanakh, JPS (Jewish Publication Society), the translation is: Whose
mouths speak lies, and whose oaths are false. (Psalms 144:8) (Tanakh,
JPS, p. 1591, Philadelphia, 2000.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

25

that my hands have stuck to it. Tarafah b. al-Abd says:


When the nation hastens to take up arms, you shall find
me secure while my hands have gripped the handle of the
sword (ballat biqmih).25
Sometimes they took scent and divided it among them and
rubbed it on their hands. Thus they would depart while scented.
Scent leaves more lasting traces than water. It is in fact more
noticeable. This is why it has been called a conspicuous thing
(urf) and a diffusing one (nashr). An example of this method
of affirming contracts, in the history of the Arabs, is the famous
relic of Manshim which goes as follows. Some people swore that
they would fight their enemies jointly. They wanted a memorial
of their covenant. They decided to use scent which they bought
from a perfumer called Manshim. This relic got so famous that it
developed into a parable. Zuhayr b Ab Sulm says:
You two recovered Abs and Dhubyn while they had given
themselves to war and while they had sprinkled among
themselves essence of Minsham.26
Similarly, we see that participants in the oath of mutayyibn
dipped their hands in perfume. The detail of this incident will be
given in the tenth section.
At other occasions, they would slaughter an animal and
sprinkle its blood on the bodies of the members of the parties
making a contract. This would either symbolize that the relation
established thus was to be honored as blood ties or work as a
symbolic expression of their vow to stand by their commitment
to the extent of pouring their blood. It has been said in Exodus:
Then he sent young men of the children of Israel, who offered
burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the
Lord, and Moses took half the blood and put it in basins and
half the blood he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the
25. Tarafah b. Al-Abd, Dwn, (Beirut: Dr al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah,
1987), 28.
26. Zuhayr b. Ab Sulm, Dwn, (Beirut: Shirkah Dr al-Arqam,
n.d.), 68.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

26

Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people.


And they said: All that the Lord has said we will do, and be
obedient. And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the
people, and said: This is the blood of the covenant which the
Lord has made with you, according to all these words.
(Exodus 24:4-12)
We see that they vowed to their Lord by sprinkling the blood
on themselves. They sprinkled the blood on the altar on behalf of
their Lord. Thus they became the allies of their Lord. Such
examples abound in the Torah. We find in Zechariah:
Because of the blood of your covenant, I set your prisoners
free. (Zechariah 9:11)
Yet another method adopted in contractual obligations was that a
party would bind a chord with that of their partners. They would
then be considered allies. The word rope has acquired the meaning
of a contract of guarantee and companionship from this very
custom. The Qurn says:
Under a covenant (habl) with God and a covenant (habl) with
men. (Q 3:112)
Imru al-Qays says:
I am going to join my chord (habl) with that of yours. I will
attach the shaft of my arrow with that of yours.27
Hatah hints towards the origin of this practice. He says:
They are a nation whose neighbor spends night in peace, once
he ties his tent ropes (atnb plural of tunub) with theirs.28
These are some of the ways adopted by the partners to stress
their commitment to honor the contracts they made. According
to another custom, people prohibited for themselves their
cherished things and abided by their promise. They would call
27. Imru al-Qays, Dwn, (Berut: Shirkah Dr al-Arqam, n.d.), 130.
28. Hatah, Jarwal b. Aws, Dwn, (Beirut: Shirkah Dr al-Arqam,
n.d.), 40.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

27

such a vow as nadhar. An example of this kind of oaths is the


vow committed by Muhalhil, brother of Kulayb. He vowed not
to drink wine nor to perfume his body nor to wash his hair until
he avenged the wrong done to his brother. This is a famous
legend. Similarly, Imru al-Qays, after fulfilling his vow, says:
Now wine is allowable to me. Previously a great adventure
kept me from indulging in drinking.29
This usage, with time, acquired new extended application.
Nadhar became an expression of clinging to something by way
of an oath. Amr b. Madkarib says:
They have vowed (yandhurna dam) to take my life while I
have vowed (andhuru) to strike hard if I faced them.30
Thus they called nadhar as yamn (oath). Qabsah, following a
mention of fulfilling a nadhar he had vowed, says:
My oath has been fulfilled (hallat yamn) by me. Ban Thal
have tasted my retaliation and my poetry has returned to me.31
This is one of the verses attributed to him by the author of
Hamsah. He means to say that what he had held forbidden for
himself by way of an oath has become allowable for him after he
achieved what he vowed to fulfill.
Another thing identical to the custom of nadhar is calling down
evil upon oneself in case of violation of an oath. It thus implies
imprecation of Gods disfavor in form of punishment if the oathtaker lies or proves unfaithful to his engagements.
Says Madn b. Jawws al-Kind:
If whatever reached you from me be true, then my friends
may reproach me and my fingers may become paralyzed. I
may burry Mundhar in his robe alone and Ht may be killed
by my foes.32
29. Imru al-Qays, Dwn, 132.
30. Ab Tamm (compiler), Dwn Hamsah, 1st ed., (Lahore:
Maktabah al-Salafiyyah, 1979), 47.
31. Ibid., 159.
32. Ibid., 40-1.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

28

Similarly Ashtar al-Nakh says:


I may hoard wealth (instead of showing generosity), fail to
perform great works and treat my guests badly if I failed to
make a raid on Ibn Harab causing great casualties every
day.33
This kind of self-imprecatory oath-formulas shares many traits
of religiously accented oaths. The religious aspect of such oaths
is portrayed by the fact that, in this case too, the oath-taker fears
God and His curse. He believes that failing to accomplish his
undertaking, once calling God as a witness to his commitments,
would earn him wrath of God.
Another form of such vows is to refrain from something
without clarifying the time or conditions of revoking it. Such
oaths are called aliyyah. The Qurn has used a derivation of
this word in the following verse:
Those who vow abstinence (yulna) from their wives must
wait four months. (Q 2:226)
This word then acquired an extended meaning. The word
laytu (I would refrain from) came to be used to mean aqsamtu
(I swear).
Imru al-Qays says:
She took an inviolable oath (lat hilfatan lam tahallal).34
Tarafah says:
I swore (falaytu) that my flank will not separate from a
sharp cutting sword.35
Ghaniyyah, mother of Htim al-T, says:
Upon my life (laamr), hunger has troubled me more than
ever. That is why I have vowed (falaytu) never to return
33. Ibid., 40.
34. Imru al-Qays, Dwn, 97.
35. Tarafah, Dwn, 28.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

29

any hungry petitioner un-entertained.36


There are ample examples of this usage of the word in the
classical Arabic literature. The words laytu and aqsamtu are
used interchangeably. Sometimes lm tkd (preposition l used
for stress) is conjugated with such expressions. The Qurn
employs this technique. The Almighty says:
And if they do not desist from what they say, a grievous
punishment shall surely befall (layamassanna) those of them
that disbelieve. (Q 5:73)
At another occasion the Almighty says:
And surely God will help (layansuranna) those who help
Him. (Q 22:40)
Labd says:
I do realize that I have to taste death most surely
(latatiyanna). For arrows of death do not miss the mark.37
While commenting on this verse Sbwayh says: As if he says:
By God, death will come.38 Sbwayh has indeed clarified his
understanding of the verse by giving an example. He actually
wants to say that the poet meant to swear. That is why we see
that while discussing L, a particle of oath (lm of qasam), he has
explained his view saying: Similarly in the words laman
tabiaka minhum laamlaanna (Whoever among them followed
you I will surely fill .), the particle lm lends the meaning of
swearing to the expression. God knows best.39
Sbwayh does not mean that God has taken a proper oath by a
certain muqsam bih. Rather, he says that the word laamlaanna
itself implies an oath. For the purpose of an oath is merely to
36. Abdul Qdir b. Umar al-Baghdd, Khaznah al-Adab wa Lubbi
Lubbi Lisni al-Arab, 1st ed., vol. 10 (Beirut: Dr al-Nashr, Dr alKutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1998), 84.
37. Ibid., 160.
38. Sbwayh, Amr b. Uthmn b. Qambar, al-Kitb, 1st ed., vol. 3
(Beirut: Dr al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1999), 125.
39. Ibid., 124.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

30

stress a point. It is not necessary to assume the muqsam bih as


left unexpressed at every instance.
This means that all such uses of lm signify an oath in this
sense. Thus, if lm-i qasam follows a word that produces the
meaning of certainty and determination the latter works as an
oath. The above quoted verse ascribed to Labd is an example.
There are examples of this style in the Qurn as well:
Then it occurred to them, even after they had seen the signs,
that they should imprison him (layasjununnah) till a certain
time. (Q 12:35)
Another example follows:
God said: The truth is, and the truth alone I speak, that I will
certainly fill (laamlaanna) Hell. (Q 38:84)
One may not think that, in these examples, the muqsam bih is
necessarily suppressed. It does not suit this occasion as is
obvious from the context.
All this detail regarding forms of oaths sufficiently proves that
muqsam bih is not always a necessary part of the oaths. We may
not take it as suppressed if it is not mentioned in a given case.
Oaths merely stress a statement or express determination to a
commitment or a vow not to do something.
_______________

Section: 7

Object is not Essential to Oath


That the muqsam bih is not essential to oath will be established
through an analysis of oath formulas. Taking an oath by God or
by His shair40 is not a plain human activity indispensible for
man. Therefore, it is not expected to have had proper expressions
in all the languages from the beginning. It has, on the contrary,
evolved out of a combination of social needs and religious
concepts. Thus, it is not valid to hold that if an oath-taker does
not mention the muqsam bih and leaves it unexpressed, then he
must be taken to have sworn by God. Oaths of glorification,
which evolved from a combination of a variety of social needs
and religious beliefs, will be discussed in detail in the tenth
section. In the present section, I will clarify the meaning of the
words which are commonly used to express an oath. This will
help us understand the origin of these words. We will see that
these words were originally not devised to swear an oath by God,
His shair, and some other things. These words include: alyamn, al-nadhar, aliyyah, qasam, halaf.
We have already discussed the word yamn, its essence, and its
common use as an expression of oath. The meaning of guarantee,
protection and pledge that it has acquired has also been dealt
with in detail. Therefore, I omit repeating these discussions.
Nadhar means to distance something and to avoid it. When one
separates and something devoting it exclusively to God, he is
said to have pledged a nadhar. In this case nadhar acquires the
meaning of prohibition. It is in this meaning that the term has
been used in Hebrew. Then this word started to be used to
prohibit cherished things to oneself. It is from this usage that it
acquired the extended meaning of holding fast to something by
way of an oath.
Aliyyah means to fail to do something. Al-l is someone who
40. Shair (singular sharah) are sacred things sanctified by faith.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

32

lacks ability to accomplish something. Then this term started to


be used for abstaining from something. Abstaining from sexual
intercourse with wives, by way of an oath, is an example. From
here it acquired the extended meaning of sticking to a decision
regarding doing or avoiding something. However, most often it
is used for abstaining from things which are supposed to be
harmful. This makes it identical to nadhar. Ibn Ziybah alTaym says:
I have sworn (laytu) not to bury bodies of those among you
who have been killed. So fumigate the victim and his armor.41
The word (aliyyah) was later on used interchangeably with
qasam (Arabic for oath), as has been discussed in the previous
section.
Qasam originally meant breaking off and cutting something
apart (qat). We say qasamtu al-shaya and qassamtuh (I cut it
apart/split it). Qat is used to remove doubt and uncertainty. Qat
and its cognate terms sarmah, jazam, qawl al-faysal, ibnah,
sad, all bear the meaning of cutting and removing doubt and
uncertainty. This is, therefore, the essence of the term qasam.
From among these terms, qasam was specifically picked as the
best expression for a decisive verdict for it is expressed using
forth causative verbal form aqsama (ifl). This verbal form
lends additional force to the action expressed through it. Qasam,
therefore, acquires additional stress because it is expressed using
this particular formation of the verb. Asfara al-subh (the morning
is very bright) is a similar construction. It too adds stress to the
original meaning of verb.
An oath expressed through this form of the verb qasam, does
not necessarily require a muqsam bih no matter whether the oath
is taken to ratify a statement of fact or to express determination.
Tarafah says:
Its builder swore (aqsama) to enclose it (latuktanafan) so
that it is encased in plaster [to be erected up strong].42
Arabic literature contains numerous such examples. In her
41. Ab Tamm, Dwn Hamsah, 39.
42. Tarafah, Dwn, 22.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

33

famous elegiac verse, Junb says:


I swear O Amr (faaqsamtu), had they (the cheetahs) awoken
you, they would have stirred an irremediable wrath in you.43
Rtah al-Salamiyyah says:
I swore (faaqsamtu) that I would never stop shedding tears;
they must continually stream my eyes.44
Kharnaq, sister of Tarafah, says:
Behold! I have sworn (aqsamtu) not to mourn the death of
anyone including my friends after Bishr.45
It has been said in the Qurn:
Are they the ones about whom you swore (aqsamtum) that
they would not have a share in Gods mercy? (Q 7:49)
He swore (qsamahum) to both of them, committing to them
that he was their well wisher. Thus he misled them
treacherously. (Q 7:21-2)
If someone claims that muqsam bih is to be taken for granted
where omitted and that in such cases the referent is always God
Almighty, I would explain to him that:
If you maintain that it is possible in some cases that the omitted
muqsam bih is to be identified as God, then I have no objection.
However, I believe that it cannot be taken for granted in all
43. Abdul Qdir, Khaznah al-Adab, 10: 409.
44. I did not find a copy of the dwn of Rtah bint Abbs al-Asamm.
However, the verse, rather the whole qasdah, is attributed to Khans
and is included in her dwn. The author appears to prefer attributing it
to Rtah. The compiler of the dwn of Khans too has mentioned that
these verses have been attributed to Rtah also. (al-Khans, Tum ir
bint Amr b. al-Hrith b. al-Shard, Dwn, (Beirut: Dr Sdir, n.d.),
131-32.
45. Abdul Qdir, Khaznah al-Adab, 5: 54. However, there is a little
variation in the lines cited. Instead of aqsamtu (I swear) a similar oath
formula wa abka (by your father) has been given.

A Study of the Qurnic Oaths

34

cases. The muqsam bih is not necessarily taken to be suppressed


if left unstated. Detailed arguments for this view have already
been presented. We know that an oath is taken by God as well as
other entities. Sometimes oaths even come without a muqsam
bih. In that case, however, it implies only stress and mere
determination.
Halaf means to cut apart and to be sharp. It is, therefore,
similar to the word qasam. A sharp knife is referred to as sinn
half. A fluent tongue is lisn half. According to Azhar, this
word has been derived from half (esparto), a plant with sharp
thorny leaves. There statement, halafa al amrin (He has
sworn to do something) is synonymous to qataa bih (He
resolved to do that). This is the root of the term halaf, expressive
of oath. Just like qasam, this word came to be used to express
resoluteness and decisiveness in a stance. That is why it does not
require a muqsam bih. When two Arabs formalize clientage
between them, they are instantly considered as such irrespective
of the method adopted in the contract. I have mentioned different
customary procedures of such a contract where the parties do not
swear by anything.
The above discussions in this section along with the earlier
ones evidently prove that basically the muqsam bih is not
necessary part of oath in the first place. Thus there remains no
question of any excellence or glorification of the muqsam bih.
In order to prove this thesis, I have, so far, discussed common
oath-words. Customary use of these words in the oath formulas
has obscured their original meanings. This called for a relatively
detailed analysis. There are, however, other words which denote
an oath and whose original meanings are still apparent. A critical
analysis of such oaths will clearly prove that an oath does not
involve glorification of the muqsam bih. This takes us to the
next section.
_______________

Section: 8

Meaning of Oath used with the Object


Having grasped the meaning of an oath used without the
muqsam bih, it would not be difficult for us to appreciate the
meaning of an oath which accompanies the muqsam bih. In such
usages, the muqsam bih is related to the oath the way a witness
is directly related to his statement. It is as if the person taking an
oath brings the muqsam bih as a witness to his statement. This is
why we see that the particles waw and b are used in such oaths.
T is actually a changed (maqlb) form of waw as in taqw and
tujt. All these particles are originally used as conjunctions
expressive of maiyyah (accompaniment).
This view is evidenced by a study of the history of swearing,
and the ways oaths are expressed as discussed earlier. The Arabs
would take an oath in the open. The parties would witness the
event to affirm what they swore. A little deliberation reveals that
it was the best way to secure the objective the oath was supposed
to yield. Everybody avoids proving himself wrong in front of all.
The Qurn itself confirms this fact. While referring to the
covenants of the Prophets, the Almighty says:
And remember the time when God took a covenant from the
people regarding the Prophets, saying: Whatever I give you
of the Book and Wisdom and then there comes to you a
Messenger, in confirmation of that which is with you, you
shall believe in him and help him. And He asked: Do you
agree, and do you accept the responsibility which I lay upon
you in this matter? They said: We agree. He said: Then
bear witness (ashad) and I am with you among the
witnesses (min al-shhidn). Now whoever turns away after
this, then surely, those are the transgressors. (Q 3:81-2)
The implication is now that we have established this covenant
with you, while both of us witness this event, it is not appropriate

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36

for any among the parties to go back on his words. Whoever fails
to honor this covenant, he will be committing transgression.
The original purpose of such emphasis can be seen in the
following example. When a man says: I bear witness to it, he
makes it plain that he is sure of the fact. He has witnessed it and
has not said that on the basis of second hand report. If he is
proven wrong, then he would not find an excuse to exonerate
him. That is why the brothers of Ysuf (sws) said:
And we have testified (shahidn) only what we know and we
have no knowledge of the unseen. (Q 12:81)
This aspect of an oath obtains from the following verse of the
Qurn:
But God bears witness (yashhadu) to what He has revealed to
you, He sent it down knowingly, and the angels also bear
witness (yashhadna) to it; and sufficient is Gods witness
(shahd). (Q 5:166)
There are other styles of stressing a point by calling a witness
to it. When someone says: I bear witness to this matter, he
actually claims that he is testifying like an eye witness with full
responsibility. Bearing false witness is a great sin and earns great
punishment. This is why all the divine laws forbid such an
abominable act. The Ten Commandments of the Torah include
this prohibition. Similarly, the Qurn, while approving the
characteristics of the righteous, says:
Those who do not bear witness (yashhadna) to falsehood.
(Q 25:72)
The only plausible interpretation of this statement is that they
do not bear false witness.
Furthermore, expressions like an ashhadu (I bear witness),
wallhu yashhadu (God is witness to the fact that) and wallhu
yalamu (God knows) are common Arabic oath expressions.
Other languages also contain similar oath formulas. Different
civilizations of the world, while following different customs and
traditions, employ phrases like God is witness to this and other
similar oath formulas.

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37

Sbwayh, while discussing the particle lm of oath, says:


Learn that there are verbs that signify oaths when followed by
another verb in the following form: aqsam laafalanna (I
swear I will do) and ashhadu laafalanna (I swear that I will
do). Thus, according to Sbwayh, the verb ashhadu implies
uqsimu (I swear) and both can be used interchangeably.
The Qurn has settled the issue by clearly indicating the fact
that shahdah (bearing witness) and ishhd (testifying), by
nature, connote yamn (oath). The Almighty says:
When the hypocrites come to you, they say: We bear
witness (naashhadu) that you are the Messenger of God.
And God knows that you are indeed His Messenger, but God
bears witness (yashhadu) too that the hypocrites certainly are
liars. They have made their oaths (aymnahum) a shield; thus
they hinder men from the path of God. (Q 63: 1-2)
God Almighty has clearly termed their act of bearing witness
as aymn (oaths). Elsewhere God Almighty used the expression
to bear witness to imply taking an oath. The Almighty says:
And it shall avert the punishment from her if she swears
(tashhada) before God four oaths (shahdtin) [stating that]
what he says is indeed false. (Q 24:8)
Still at another place, it is said:
And they call upon God to witness (yushhidullha) their true
intentions, whereas they are but [your] staunch enemies. (Q
2:204)
The above discussion evidently proves that in such oaths, the
muqsam bih is meant to serve as a witness to the truth of what is
sworn of (muqsam alayhi). I have provided close and copious
arguments which sufficiently prove this thesis. The issue will be
further elaborated upon by the help of examples in the tenth
section.
In regards to the question of glorification of the muqsam bih, I
hold that it is not a necessary element of an oath. It is only an
additional thing that is acquired in some of the cases. We will
soon turn to this issue.

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38

After this discussion around the essence of oath and its basic
meaning, I turn to explain the additional meanings it has
acquired such as glorification, honoring, and argumentation. I
will now take up these issues so that the reader can fully
understand all relevant matters. This will help the reader
properly ponder over the Qurnic oaths and reach a correct
conclusion in this regard.
_______________

Section: 9

Honorific Oath
Oaths have been used to bestow honor on or glorify 1) the
muqsam bih, 2) the oath-taker himself or 3) the addressees. The
Arabs were characterized by truthfulness and honesty. It was a
hallmark of their nature. It was never possible for them to go
back on their words, break an oath or dishonor a promise.
Whenever they declared someone as their client or protected
neighbor, they would not fail to fulfill their commitment. Taking
an oath falsely in social matters was a great disgrace and
humiliation to their sense of honor and dignity, their natural
traits. By taking the hands of one another while making a
contract, they intended to express vow to stake their life and
honor on their commitment. The oath, to an Arab, therefore,
implied putting his life in danger, as has been explained in the
seventh section. That is why they would often take an oath by
saying upon my life; that is, I stake my life on my statement.
This aspect of oaths has been highlighted by some of the poets.
Rtah, daughter of Abbs al-Salm says:
Upon my life (laamr), and my life is not an insignificant
thing for me, O family of Khatham, you have killed the best
young man.46
Such statements abound in the literature of the Arabs.
Nbighah al-Dhubyn says:
Upon my life (laamr), and my life is not insignificant to me,
aqri (the tribe Qar b. Awf) have attributed obvious lies to
me.47
46. Khans, Dwn, 131.
47. Nbighah al-Dhubyn, Dwn, (Beirut: Dr Beirut, 1986), 80.

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40

It is in this aspect of the oath that muqsam bih has been


considered to be a glorious thing. The oath-taker can emphasize
his statement this way only through swearing by something
honorable, glorious and dear. This is, therefore, the crux of this
kind of oaths. From this kind of oaths developed expressions like
laamruka (by your life), which denote honor for the addressee.
The speaker intends to say: I swear, not by my life, but by your
life which is dearer and more honorable to me than that of mine.
This is the basis of adding the element of glorification of the
muqsam bih. Since, at times, an oath-taker intends to honor his
addressee besides reaffirming his statement and this form of oaths
suited more to the conversational oaths, the Arabs started to use
expressions like laamruka (upon your life), laamru abka and
jaddika (upon your fathers or grandfathers life) and bi
izzatika (upon your honor) among others.
These oath formulas are used very frequently and are well
known. Therefore, there is no need to prove their currency in the
classical Arabic literature. Still, however, it is important to
discuss certain points regarding this kind of oaths.
First, the muqsam bih in such oaths, though honorable or
respectable to the speaker, is not necessarily something which is
worshipped and considered sacred, as is the case with the
religiously accented oaths, to be discussed in the next section.
Second, when the muqsam bih is attributed to the addressee, it
always indicates his honor and respect. The following saying of
Almighty God is an example.
By your life (laamruka), in their intoxication, they are going
blind. (Q 15:72)
In this verse, God Almighty has honored His Messenger by
addressing him this way. Another example of this is the
following saying of the Almighty:
Nay, by your Lord (wa rabbika), they are not true believers
until they make you judge [in all that is in dispute between
them]. (Q 4:65)
When it is attributed to the speaker himself, it implies his honor
and grandeur. We may say that the speaker intends to say: My
life and honor are not accessible. This aspect of the oath,

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41

therefore, does not behove lowly servants of God. Jesus Christ


(sws) perhaps referred to this kind of oaths when he forbade
taking oaths in the following statement attributed to him:
Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make
one hair white or black. (Mathew 5:36)
Third, since some oaths include the aspect of calling evil upon
the oath-taker as has been explained in the sixth section, this too
should be considered an extended meaning of the oaths of
glorification, and not the original meaning of such oaths. It is as
though the oath-taker intends to say: If I am untrue in what I
say then my life be destroyed and my honor be spoiled.
By the foregoing discussion, I hope it has become clear that
this kind of oaths is not sworn except when the muqsam bih is
attributed to either the speaker or the addressee. Such oaths must
also be taken through specific expressions mentioned above. In
these oaths, one swears by things known to be respected and
revered by the speaker. This explains that the Qurnic oaths by
dhriyt (that scatter dust) (Q 51:01), al-diyt (panting ones)
(Q 100:1), khunnas (the stars that withdraw) (Q 81:15) and aljawr al-kunnas (stars which rush ahead and hide) (Q 81:16) fall
in a distinct category. They should not be confused with this
kind.
It needs to be appreciated that this kind of oaths is not among
the more concrete forms of swearing current in Arabian society.
These are often used, merely in order to place emphasis upon a
statement, such as in the expression aqsamtu (I swear). That is
why at times they say la-amrillhi (upon Gods life) without
implying its literal meaning, except when they make such an
intention clear as has been explained with reference to the verses
of Rtah and Nbighah.
There are, however, other kinds of concrete oath formulas
which will be taken up in the next section.
_______________

Section: 10

Oath Sanctifying the Object


I have already explained reasons why the Arabs felt a need to
stress and solidify their statements by way of an oath. Similar
needs sometimes forced them to overstate and exaggerate their
assertions. They would then, while entering into a mutual
contract, gather at a place of worship, adding the element of
religiosity to their oaths. They intended to hold God a witness to
their commitments. They believed taking a false oath this way
would invite Gods wrath.
In early times, political order and proper rule in Arabia was
limited. Nations and tribes lived closely and were not separated by
natural boundaries like great mountains and surging seas. They
were not deterred by natural boundaries from attacking each other
except by mutual accords. Treaties, therefore, provided the
inestimable protection and were strong walls against foreign
aggression.
Then at times, different nations forged an alliance against a
common enemy and would enter into a treaty. Whenever a matter
of peace or war was felt important by the Arabs, they immediately
resorted to contracting a treaty. When Abraham (sws) left his
nation and settled in the Arabian Peninsula, Ab Malik noticed
that he was a man of power and might. The latter feared him and
gave him respect. This he did by entering into a treaty with
Abraham (sws) in a customary way in order to avoid any possible
confrontation with him. Both of them became allies through this
treaty.
History evidences the communal importance of treaties. Even
great powerful nations of the present day resort to this practice.
This explains how important the practice must have been to the
ancient nations founded on their sense of honor, aggression and
audaciousness. Nations of this day, I should say, are of the same
traits. They are even worse because they have combined elements

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43

of force and aggression with deception and falsehood. People


often disrespect contracts and treaties. Still, however, they cling to
the treaties compelled by the needs of a civilization. People swear
by God and religious symbols in front of judges and rulers. Oaths,
therefore, more befitted the ancient nations who were more
truthful and trustworthy in matters of social and political
interaction. It was thus more appropriate and feasible for them to
make the oaths a basis of their social relations such that they were
taken by that which was considered to be exalted and high. That is
why we see that they all gathered at their religious sanctuaries and
temples and contracted treaties and made promises before their
deities which were supposed to be witnesses to such agreements.
Pre-Islamic Arabs were part of the community of nations. They
were powerful, more warlike, as well as most true to their
promises, and most abiding by their protection vows. The
Kabah was their most sacred sanctuary whose sanctity, to them,
was the soundest call to peace. Considering its sacredness, they
would stay away from wars and battles during the days of hajj.
During these days, they thronged to the Kabah from all
directions, dressed like monks. Friends and foes intermingled
very peacefully. The predacious lions behaved like most docile
lambs. All this drastic change in their disposition was grounded
in their respect for the House of God, which they called salh
(conciliator) and umm al-rahmah (source of mercy.
Whenever they intended to formalize a pact, they would come to
the Kabah and take an oath by Almighty God.
Having indulged in polytheism, they would swear oaths in their
stone altars also. They would present offerings to the deities in
order to make them intercede with Almighty God.
The customs related to taking such oaths included pouring the
blood of an offering; touching the building of the Kabah, as is
evidenced by their poetry; dipping their hands in perfume and
touching the Kabah; or by merely going to the House and
pledging a treaty therein. The dipping of the hands in perfume
and then touching the Kabah is an act evidenced by the incident
of the oath of the mutayyibn (the perfumed parties) which
occurred a little before the call of the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
When the children of Abd-i Munf decided to reunite, they took
a bowl full of perfume in order to establish a covenant among
them in the Kabah. These people dipped their hands in the

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44

perfume and touched the building of the Kabah. This is why


they were called the perfumers. The Prophet (sws) and Ab Bakr
(rta) participated in this pact. 48
This is the origin of the religious oaths of the Arabs. They
widened its application and remained content with only making a
mention of the Kabah or the other symbols attached to the hajj
ritual. This is evidenced by the following examples:
Zuhayr b. Ab Sulm says:
I swore (aqsamtu) by the House (bi al-bayt) which is
circumambulated by its builders, Quraysh and Jurham.49
At another occasion he says:
Thus our hands and your hands will come together at a place
of taking oaths (the House of God), where the blood of
offerings is poured.50
Ash Qays says:
By the two-layered garment of a pilgrim and by the house
built by Qusayy and Ibn Jurham alone, I .51
48. In his biography of the Prophet (sws), Ibn Hishm has recorded the
following narrative regarding the oath of the mutayyibn. After the death
of Qusayy b. Kilb, two branches of his progeny, Ban Abd Munf and
Ban Abd al-Dr differed over the management of hijbah (custody of
the Kabah), liw (standard bearing in wars), siqyah (provision of
water to the pilgrims) and rafdah (provisioning pilgrims). The Quraysh
split into two parties, one favoring Ban Abd Munf while the other
siding with Ban Abd al- Dr. Ban Abd Munf produced a cup full of
scent and placed it in the Kabah for their allies. Both the parties, Ban
Abd Munf and their allies, dipped their hands in the scent and
established a contract. Then they touched the Kabah to solidify their
commitment. That is why they came to be called mutayyibn. Since Ban
Abd al-Dr and their allies entered into a treaty committing not to show
weakness and not to abandon each other to be picked by their enemies,
they were called ahlf (clients). (For detail see: Ibn Hishm, al-Sirah alNabawiyyah, vol. 1 (Cairo: Dr al-Fajr li-Turth, 2004), 89-90.
49. Zuhayr, Dwn, 68.
50. Ibid., 16.
51. Al-Subh al-Munr f Shir Ab Basr Maymn b. Qays b. Jandal wa

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45

The same poet says in another verse ascribed to him:


For him, I swore (halaftu) by the she-camels, which go
dancing towards Min (al-rqisat) at the time the packs of the
pilgrims throng towards it.52
Hrith b. Ibd says:
Never, by Lord of the she camels which dance towards (wa
rabbi al-rqisti) Min. Never, I swear by the Lord who
prohibits and allows things (wa rabbi al-hilli wa al-ihrmi).53
Nbighah al-Dhubyn says:
No, by the one whose House I circumambulated, and by the
blood poured on the stone-altars. By the one who shelters
birds that remained undisturbed by caravans which travel
between Ghayl and Sad. I have never said things which have
been (falsely) communicated to you. If I ever said that then,
my hands may not be able to take up the whip (i.e. they
become paralyzed.) My God may punish me with such
punishment which satisfies the heart of my enemy.54
Shs, brother of Alqamah al-Fahl, says:
By the one who gathers the pilgrims to Min and by the blood
poured out of the tied offerings.55
Ghaniyyah al-Arbiyah praises her son:
I swear by marwah on one day and by saf on another that
you are more beneficial than shreds of the rod.56
al-Ashayayn al- kharayn, (London: Adolf Holzhausens, 1928), 95.
52. Ibid., 94.
53.Abd al-Azz Nabaw, (compiler), Dwn Ban Bakr f alJhiliyyah, 532.
54. Nbighah, Dwn, 35-6.
55. I tried to look this passage up in major anthologies, lexicons and
dawwn (Hamsah etc) but could not determine the source.
56. al-Jhiz, al-Bayn wa al-Tabyn, 1st ed., vol. 3 (Beirut: Dr al-Jl,

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46

The following verses evidence the custom of swearing by the


stone alters:
Muhalhil says:
Never, by the beautifully carved ancient stone-altars which
are customarily worshipped.57
Tarafah says:
I swore beside the stone-altars that I am going to perish in an
encounter that will neither be easy nor kind.58
Mutalammis says:
Have you deserted me for fear of my defamatory poetry? By
Lt and by the stone-altars you will never escape it.59
Rashd b. Ramid al-Anaz says:
I swore by the blood poured around Awd and by the stone
altars erected near Sar.60
Stone-altars are rarely sworn by. It was the Kabah and other
rituals and places of hajj which were very frequently sworn by in
emphatic oath of glorification. Even though the Arabs followed
different religions, they still collectively respected and revered
this Ancient House (al-bayt al-atq). They believed that it was
the first house of God established for mankind to worship
therein. We even find Christians swearing by it.
Ad b. Zayd, who had converted to Christianity in the PreIslamic time, says:
By the Lord of Makkah and the cross, my enemies are busy
n.d.), 49.
57. Muhalhil b. Rabah, Dwn, (Beirut: Dar Sdir, 1996), 48.
58. Tarafah, Dwn, 53.
59 Ab Zayd Muhammad b. Ab al-Khattb al-Qarsh, Jamharah
Ashr al-Arab, (Beirut: Dr Sdir, n.d.), 78.
60. Ibn Hishm, Mughni al-labb, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Dr al-Kutub
al-Ilmiyyah, 1998), 303.

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47

against you, making sure not to leave any evil untried.61


Akhtal, who openly and proudly speaks of his faith in
Christianity, says:
I swear by the one to whom the sacrificial animals are led and
in whose house (Kabah) vows are fulfilled.62
At another occasion, he says:
I swear by the one for whose sake the pilgrims set out and by
those who offer blood of sacrificial animals in the sacred
precincts (haram).63
The same poet says:
I have sworn by the Lord of the she-camels, which go
dancing [to Min], by the screens and covers of the (Kabah)
in Makkah and by the sacrificial animals, whose feet are
bloodstained because of [long] walks during the days of
sacrifice.64
The above examples show that whenever the Arabs felt a more
pressing need to take an oath, they swore by the Kabah or
ritualistic things related to hajj. This has been plainly indicated
by Hassn b. Thbit al-Ansr in his verses dating back to the
pre-Islamic time.
I swear by the Lord of the tamed she-camels, and by their
traveling through the vast plains and stony places, and by the
sacrificial animals, offered at the altar, the oath of a loyal and
determined man.65
61. Asfahn, Ab al-Faraj, al-Aghn, 2nd ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: Dr alKutub al-Ilmiyyah, 1992), 103. There is, however, a little variation in
the wording. My source has the first word of the second part of the
verse as alayya (against me) instead of alayka (against you).
62. al-Akhtal, Ghiyth b. Ghawth b. al-Salt, Dwn, Beirut: Dr alKitb al-Arab, 2004), 185.
63. Ibid., 192.
64. Ibid., 23.
65. Hassn b. Thbit, Dwn, vol. 1 (Lahore: al-Maktabah alIlmiyyah, n.d.), 136.

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48

riq al-T says:


I swore by the stations at Min, and by the places where lice
is pestled (i.e. heads are shaved) that I would exert full
efforts.66
This practice of swearing by the Kabah or other ritualistic
things related to hajj current in the Jhil period remained extant
even after the advent of Islam. Farazrduq says:
Do you not know that I have promised to my Lord, while
standing between the gate [of the Kabah] and Muqm, that I
would never abuse a Muslim, nor would I ever utter falsity?67
Hatah says:
By the she-camels which dance towards Min from all sides
while carrying men.68
These examples show that this was the most famous and
favorite form of religious oaths. Now, it is hoped that, it would
be clear to you that by this they only meant to make their Lord,
whom they worshipped, a witness over their statements. The
Lord was thus made witness to an event. He was made a
guarantor and protector of the contracts and agreements. This
was because they believed that by taking a false oath and by
being proved wrong in statements, they would earn the wrath of
God. The verses we have attributed above to Nbighah in this
section clearly explain this point.
As for the pious, by making Almighty God as witness to their
assertions, they intended to express their confidence and trust in
their Lord and also to express their commitment to what they
bear witness to. This will become clear after a study of the
examples of oaths presented in the end of this section.
66. The verse is a part of Zuhayr b. Ab Sulms dwn. I could not
find it ascribed to riq al-T in any anthology or dwn. Zuhayr,
Dwn, 51.
67. Abdul Qdir, Khaznah al-Adab, 1: 223.
68. Hatah, Dwn, 175.

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49

When the Arabs, in their oaths, mentioned the Kabah and


offerings and referred to touching it, they intended to evidence a
claim. This way they also pointed towards the method of
swearing an oath. Merely swearing by God does not produce the
desired result. Therefore, they tried to point towards the origin
and essence of the oath and depict the form of taking an oath.
This they did in order to make it an effective communicative
technique.
I have held that the Arabs employed oaths to bring evidence to
a fact. This I base on their history and poetry. This view can be
further corroborated by the fact that they often held God a
witness to their statements. They would thus say: God is
witness, God knows or any other similar thing. The following
verse of Amr b. Madkarib is a case in point:
God knows (yalamu) I did not cease to fight them till the
time their [dead bodies] were piled up to my horse, covered
with red foamy blood.69
Al-Hrith b. Ibd says:
God knows (alima) I am not among those who caused this
nuisance. Rather I am the one exposed to its flames.70
This can be further corroborated by the relic of the serpent and
its client. The story, according to Nbighah, goes as follows: The
snake bit the son of his human client. The son died. The serpent
and his client agreed on a certain amount of diyah (blood money)
which the serpent paid. Afterwards the man tried to kill the
serpent in retaliation even after receiving the diyah. The serpent
escaped the onslaught. Sometime later the man wanted to renew
the promissory vow of camaraderie with him. This event has
been poeticized by Nbighah as follows:
The man said: Come, let us hold God a witness between us
or you fulfill your [earlier promise] to the last. The serpent
69. Hamsah, 1: 56. The verse has been ascribed to Hrith b. Hishm,
not Amr as Farh says.
70. Abd al-Azz Nabaw (compiler), Dwn Ban Bakr f alJhiliyyah, 512.

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50

responded: By God (yamn allhi), I am not going to do that.


I have found you enchanted. Your vows (yamnuka) are
untrue.71
Another clear example is found in the Prophets (sws) last hajj
sermon. After explaining the fundamentals of Islam, he asked the
audience: Have I communicated to you? (They all said: Yes,
you have.) O God, bear witness. (Bukhr, No: 1654) Thus, he
held Almighty God a witness to their statement.
Still another example is what the Prophet (sws) said to Ibn alLatbah. The Prophet (sws) had appointed Ibn al-Latbah as a tax
collector. He accepted personal gifts from the people. When the
Prophet (sws) came to know of this, he was enraged. He
reminded Ibn al-Latbah his responsibilities and then, while
raising his hands to the heavens, said: O God, I have
communicated [what is upon me]. (Bukhr, No: 2457)
Such an example of raising hands to the heavens and then
calling God to bear witness over something is also found in a
relic related to Abraham (sws). Genesis 14:22-3 reads:
But Abraham said to the king of Sodom: I have raised my
hand to the Lord (i.e. I have sworn by), God the Most High,
the Possessor of heaven and earth, that I will take nothing,
from a thread to a sandal strap, or anything else that is yours.
Abraham (sws) meant to say: I swear by God and I make Him
a witness to what I have promised. I believe that raising hands
in the prayer also signifies covenanting and witnessing. This
issue has been discussed in our book Usl al-Shari.72 The
Qurn indicates this point at various occasions. Some of the
relevant evidences have been presented in section eight.
To sum up, we can say that the religious oaths are originally
71. Nbighah, Dwn, 70.
72. The author has referred to this book in more than one occasion in
his works. Amn Ahsan Islh too, in his biography of the author,
mentions the name of this work as al-Ri f Usl al-Shari without
providing any details about the status of the work. To my knowledge
the author has not left any manuscript containing a part or discussion
on this topic. It appears to me that once he conceives a book and plans
to work it out he starts referring to it as a helpful source.

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51

taken to evidence something. The meaning of glorification has


been mingled with the original meaning only because of the
consideration of the muqsam bih, and not because of the mere
act of bringing evidence by oaths: the most manifest meaning of
swearing an oath.
This fact is borne out by another kind of oaths of the Arabs
where they swear by a muqsam bih exclusively in order to bring
evidence to prove a point. This, however, is a very delicate
discussion of balghah (rhetoric). We will take it up in the
following sections.
_______________

Section: 11

Argumentative Oath
We have learnt that the Arabs in their oaths bore witness and
called Gods witness to what they intended to asseverate. Among
oaths brought to witness some claims, the oath taken by the
name of God Almighty best communicates the intention of the
oath-taker. That is why swearing by God abounds in the
conversations as well as the literature of the Arabs. Those
lacking a proper understanding of the Arabic styles of expression
and discipline of balghah assume that originally only God
could be held witness in oaths because of the glory He possesses.
However, a thorough analysis of the Arabic literature reveals
that, besides other things, they even swore by things they neither
worshipped nor respected. They only intended to evidence a fact
by making the muqsam bih a witness for the muqsam alayhi.
Even purely religious oaths were characterized by this aspect of
evidencing a fact, as will be established in section 15. For now,
we only intend to present the examples of the argumentative
oaths so that the true signification of such oaths is brought to
light. Ab al-Aryn al-T, while eulogizing Htim, says:
People know and the cooking pots and the shining sharp
edges of knives, which flow continuously, bear witness that
you do not take more time to entertain a night visitor than is
taken in unsheathing the sword (to slaughter an animal).73
Al-R says:
Indeed, the heavens, the wind, the earth, the days, and the
city, all bear witness. I made Ban Badar taste the
consequences of their recalcitrance in the combat of Hib, an
unparalleled battle.74
73. I have no access to the source of this couplet too.
74. al-Jhiz, al-Bayn wa al-Tabyn, 1: 82.

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53

Nbighah al-Dhubyn says:


The horses bear witness that, at the time of intense spearing,
we proved a scourge of punishment for some and a blessing
for others.75
Antarah says:
Horses and the horsemen bear witness to that I rent their force
asunder through a decisive spearing.76
Notice the use of cooking-pots, knives, heavens, winds, the
earth, days, cities, horses and horsemen as proofs to the
statements of the oath-takers. They mean to say: Ask these
things. If they could speak, they would bear witness to what we
state.
This style of evidencing a fact by specific things has been
employed in the following statement of al-Fadal b. s b. Abn
in one of his sermons:
Ask the earth: Who has engraved your streams, planted your
trees and harvested your fruits? If it does not speak by
tongue its very state will testify.77
I believe the Book of Job echoes this in the following part of
the sermon.
Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; and the birds of the
air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will
teach you; and the fish of the sea will explain to you. Who
among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has
done this, in whose hand is the life of every living thing, and
the breath of all mankind? (Job 12: 7-10)
Similarly it has been said in Deuteronomy:
75. Nbighah, Dwn, 106.
76. Antarah b. Shaddd, Dwn, 2nd ed., (Beirut: Al-Maktab alIslm, 1983), 134.
77. al-Jhiz, al-Bayn wa al-Tabyn, 1: 81.

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I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I


have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing;
therefore, choose life, that both you and your descendants
may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)
By this testimony, the Prophet Moses (sws) intends to say:
This covenant between you and me is not a secret. Rather we
formalize it openly making it known to all. Dishonoring it would
earn you everlasting disgrace. You will then continuously face
curse and punishment from the heavens above and the earth
below.
The Prophet Moses (sws) has thus presented heavens and earth
to exemplify perpetual disgrace which must follow a breaking of
the pact. It is as if he appointed two witnesses over them, which
may not abandon them even for a moment, and appointed two
signs, which may always remind them of the pact.
What fully uncovers the true nature of the argumentative oaths,
in which the state of some inanimate thing is made to bear
witness over a claim, is the fact that just as the oath-takers make
things to bear witness over a fact using the words yashhadu (he
bears witness), yalamu (he knows) and similar expressions, they
also employ words which connote swearing and even such words
and particles as were coined to express an oath including ww of
qasam or the laamr (upon my life) and the like.
For the benefit of those who have not been convinced by the
aforementioned examples, we refer to examples where oaths
have been sworn by inanimate objects which can only speak by
their state. Urwah b. Murrah al-Hudhal says:
And Ab Ammah said: O Bakr, help! I said: By the
Markhah tree (wa markhatin), what an inflated claim!
The poet satirizes Ab Ammahs call to the tribe of Bakr for
help. He means to say: This is an awfully inflated claim. What
an insignificant people to rely on! He swore by an unmeaning
tree that cannot even shelter a man. He depicted the tree as
proverbial for weakness and inability to provide shelter. This
meaning is also clear in the following verse ascribed to Ab
Jundub al-Hudhal:
I am a man who tucks up loincloth to the middle of his calf

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55

(i.e. I instantly get ready for the task) when called for help by
a neighbor. You should not take my neighbor as a man
seeking shelter under a Markhah tree. Nor should you
mistake him as a mild grass growing in a low land.78
The oaths Hajras swore, after he had slain Jasss, the killer of
his father, are also relevant:
By my horse and its ears, my spear and its edges, and my
sword and its blade, one cannot spare the killer of his father
when he sees him.79
Hajras has sworn by things which evidence his statements. He
means to say: How can I spare the killer of my father while I
am able to advance and retreat, spearing and fighting with a
sword. Thus he has sworn by such things that are supposed to
ratify his statement and prove his claim.
Tarafah says:
By the blood ties and by your grandfather, whenever you will
encounter danger I will come to your help.80
Tarafah says that he will never fail to attend a meeting of his
blood relatives held for the settlement of an important matter. He
could never disregard blood ties. Blood relation meant everything
to the Arabs. They would, therefore, take an oath by God as well
as by blood ties. The poet swears by it in order to furnish evidence
for his commitment to his relatives and to externalize it.
Another example is found in a verse ascribed to al-Hasn b.
Hammd who, while lamenting the death of his friend Nam b.
Al-Hrith, says:
We killed five (men) and they fell Nam. It is honorable for a
respectful young man to be killed. By the women lamenting
the death of Nam, his murder has been hard on us.81
78. Dwn al-Hudhaliyyn, 2nd ed., vol. 3 (Cairo: Dr al-Kutub alMisriyyah, 1995), 92.
79. Asfahn, al-Aghni, 5: 67.
80. Tarafah, Dwn, 27.
81. Asfahn, al-Aghn, 14: 12.

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By swearing by the lamenting women, the poet intends to point


to their apparent condition which evidences the havoc created by
the event. It reveals how badly the relatives of the murdered man
have been affected. This kind of oaths is not very common
because of the delicacy involved in it and due to the currency of
other forms of oaths signifying the same meaning. However, it
has been a well established form of taking an oath containing
multifaceted rhetorical beauty (balaghah). This issue will be
discussed in detail in the seventeenth section.
We, on the basis of very sound arguments, maintain that this
form of oath taking has been applied both by the Arabs and the
non-Arabs. It would not be inappropriate if we referred to the
Greek literature to support our viewpoint.
_______________

Section: 12

Argumentative Oath in Demosthenes


Greeks were an independent nation in the beginning of their
history. Unacquainted with coercion, they lived under a
democratic system till the reign of King Philip, the father of
Alexander the Great. Philip established his personal rule. He had
to face the pro-democratic powers which offered him very fierce
opposition. Many bloody battles between both the parties
ensued. The greatest Greek orator Demosthenes headed the
opposition. When the democratic powers were defeated by King
Philip, Demosthenes made a historical speech to the Athenians in
order to dress their feelings and to praise their bravery and love
for freedom. In this speech, he defended his views and negated
those of his opponent schines, who sided with the king. We
reproduce relevant parts of his speech in the following:
No, my countrymen, it cannot be that you have acted wrong
in encountering danger bravely for the liberty and the safety
of all Greece. Your forefathers had already left a model for
you to emulate. They were certainly not on the wrong; those
of your forefathers who fought at Marathon, those who
offered their lives at Salamis, those who bravely fought at
Plaataea. Never indeed. By the generous souls of ancient
times who endangered their lives in the field of Marathon! By
those who encountered the fleets at Salamis! By those who
fought at Artemisium! By those courageous warriors who
stood arrayed at Plataea! O schines, the sons of Athens did
not pay homage only to those who prevailed, not only those
who were victorious. They showed respect to all of them by
paying honor to their dead bodies democratically.82
82. Demosthenes, Public Orations of Demosthenes, (London: Jones
and Company, 1828), 177.

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58

The public did not welcome their victory and did not show
respect to it. Rather they honored their bravery, courage and love
for liberty. Same is your case. If you have not carried the day
this time do not fret over it. It is glorious enough that you risked
your lives for the sake of liberty and freedom of the country.
Let us ponder over the oaths of Demosthenes. He depicts their
forefathers and their courage and valiance for his audience in
order to fill their hearts with pride and passion. He has
successfully invoked their valiant and brave deeds as evidence of
the failed yet rightful and brave cause of his audience. Such true
depiction has only been made possible by couching the words in
the form of oaths that serve the purpose of emphasizing the
statement.
This form of oaths is known for its cogence. It has been
considered an excellent literary device by the literary experts of
ancient times as well as those of later periods. However, I
believe that the later Greek scholars could not appreciate the
essence of these oaths. So did our scholars. We see that hardly
six hundred years after Demosthenes, Longinus, the famous
Athenian literary critic and teacher of rhetoric, discusses this
type of oaths in his book on rhetoric. Regarding the oaths taken
by Demosthenes, he holds that the beauty of these oaths is the
abounding glorification of muqsam bih in them. The oath-taker
has indeed put the ancients at the stead of deities. He rejects the
view that this type of the oaths is of the genre applied by the poet
Eupolis, who swore an oath by his crown.
Now, I present the oath taken by Eupolis, which is yet another
example from the Greek literature. You will learn that the view
rejected by Longinus is the only plausible one.
_______________

Section: 13

Argumentative Oath in Eupolis


During the democratic period, the Greeks would customarily
crown the valiant accomplishment of an extraordinarily brave
warrior meeting the expectations of the nation. They would thus
honor brave men and admit their privilege. The poet Eupolis was
one who earned such an honor by showing bravery in the battle
of Marathon.
Later, some envious people accused him of having harbored ill
will for his nation. By this, they intended to remove from the
hearts of the nation the respect he commanded. They wanted the
public to abhor him. Eupolis tried to defend himself against such
accusations in a poem. Two of the relevant verses are being
translated here:
No, by the crown embellishing my head, bestowed upon me
at the Battle of Marathon, none of my foes can prove that I
am harboring ill will [for my nation].83
We see that the poet has taken an oath by the crown he
received from his nation. He seeks to prove that he did not bear
ill will for them. It is as if he says: How can I bear ill will for
my people after they honored me greatly.
We see in this example, and among other similar ones, that an
oath is not specific to the deities. This brings down the
foundation of Longinus viewpoint. Those who considered the
oath of Demosthenes and Eupolis as belonging to the same genre
83. The name of the Greek poet according to Farh is Bliys [in
Arabic]. He is perhaps the poet Eupolis. For Longinus, in his work,
discusses and compares oaths taken by Demosthenes and Eupolis. See:
Dionysius Longinus on the Sublime: in Greek, together with the
English translation by William Smith, D.D. (Baltimore: Edward
Matchett Printer, 1810).

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60

are correct. Both of them have used oaths by way of evidence


and examples. They did not intend in their oaths the glorification
of the muqsam bih. If the muqsam bih itself contain any kind of
glory, it is a mere coincidence and not the intention of the oathtaker to establish it. An oath in and of itself does not speak of
glorification of the muqsam bih. On the contrary, sometimes it
implies the negation of glory in the muqsam bih. Urwah b.
Murrah, whose verse we have already mentioned in the eleventh
chapter, takes an oath by the Markhah tree in order to exemplify
weakness and insignificance.
_______________

Section: 14

Evidentiary Significations of Argumentative Oath


We have been acquainted with argumentative oaths in prose and
poetry from both the Arabic and the Non-Arabic sources. We have
also learnt that employing an oath to reinforce a statement is a
certain style of lending eloquence to the discourse. Now I wish to
explain the evidential significations of the examples of oaths
mentioned in the previous chapters. This will help us fully
understand the argumentative character of oaths. A thorough
discussion in this regard is necessary because this issue is of
central importance to this book. We will also find some further
examples of this kind of oaths in the discussion around the
rhetorical aspects of the oaths.
While taking oaths of evidence, the Arabs, at times, clarify the
nature of the muqsam alayhi, such as in the following verse of
al-R:
Indeed, the heavens, the winds, the earth, the days and the
city all bear witness (tashhadu) to that .
The poet says that what he swears of is so evident and well
established that everything bears witness to it. Everything on the
horizons of the skies and the corners of the earth proves it. Every
city knows it. It has been preserved on the pages of history. The
strength of stress on the assertion is achieved by highlighting the
fact that even inanimate things bear witness to it let alone men
endowed with the faculties of hearing, vision and speech.
This is apparently a bit of exaggeration. Yet it is based on truth.
It relies on the general knowledge of the fact. It is similar to the
oath taken by Moses (sws), as referred to earlier, where he swore
by the heavens and the earth.
Sometimes oath-takers mean to present something as an
example by way of comparison in order to strengthen a claim.
The oath of Urwah b. Murrah referred to above evidences this

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62

fact. He has likened the tribe of Ban Bakr, whom Ab Ammah


called for help, to the Markhah tree. This is merely an empty
claim. However, when such a claim is just intricately hinted at, it
is often well received by the audience, just as is the case with
simile and antonomasia. This has been explained by the experts
of ilm al-man (Science of Meaning). We will return to this
discussion in the seventeenth chapter.
Sometimes, by such oaths, the oath-takers try to corroborate a
statement. They thus swear by the muqsam bih because it
corroborates the muqsam alayhi. We can see this in the
statement of Eupolis mentioned above. He swears by the crown
by which his nation had honored him. This act of his nation was
an expression of respect and glorification for him. It is as if he
says, in rejecting the claim of his contender: I, after receiving
this great honor bestowed upon me, cannot be imagined to have
borne ill-will for my people. This evidence was indeed weak.
For his opponents could have said: You are ingrate. You have
changed since your people honored you. He has, therefore,
further strengthened his oath by the crown by adducing his
personal dignity and respect. He seems to say: I have acquired
this respect in the most famous war my nation ever fought, a war
in which all the great warriors of the nation showed their true
valor. None of them could reach my position. This stress and
emphasis on his personal traits did not leave his opponents with
an option but to recede to the position of the envious who can
only fret over other peoples honor and dignity. Still, however,
this kind of oaths does not fully tie together a claim and evidence
to prove it.
Sometimes the oath-swearer intends to bring a decisive proof
for his statements. This could be achieved by referring to a fact
which joins the muqsam bih and muqsam alayhi. This
phenomenon can be observed in the oath taken by Demosthenes.
He mentions the praiseworthy works of the ancestors of his
addressees. His audience could not doubt his claims. Thus he
could definitely prove that their deeds were just as praiseworthy
as the acts of their forefathers, whom they emulated. To do this,
he first makes it plain that their ancestors were exemplars for
them. This is indeed the best form of argumentative oaths.
_______________

Section: 15

Evidence from the Qurn


It has been sufficiently proved that the basic purpose of an oath
is to ratify a statement. It has also been established that
gloriousness of the muqsam bih is not a necessary characteristic
of the oath. This is an additional thing obtained only when the
oath is taken by God and His shair. It has also been explained
that sometimes oaths are brought merely as evidence. These
premises make it clear that the oaths of the Qurn upon which
objections have been made are the oaths brought to furnish
proofs and bring evidence from the facts mentioned as the
muqsam bih, for the claims made in the muqsam alayhi.
Someone may, while admitting that oaths are basically brought
for bearing witness to a fact, claim that oaths have been widely
used for the sake of glorification of the muqsam bih. This
change in its usage has grown to be a reality. The real essence of
the oaths (i.e. evidencing a muqsam alayhi by force of evidence
provided by the muqsam bih) has lost significance. That is why
we have been forbidden to take an oath by other than God. We
will therefore not turn to the essence of an oath unless we find a
separate decisive proof for the fact that it has been taken in the
original (now obsolete) sense.
To this our response would be this. We do accept your claim.
However, the Qurn itself has led us to the conclusion that the
essence of the oaths has to be taken in consideration while
attempting to interpret the Qurnic oaths.
Some of the Qurnic indications leading us to this conclusion
follow:
First, it is a general style of the Qurnic expression. The Qurn
applies a word to describe man here and Almighty God there. In
so doing, the Qurn uses different significations of the word. A
word applied to common mortals is not applied to Almighty God
in the same sense so that it does not mismatch the glory of God. In

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64

the Qurn, the word salh, for example, is attributed both to men
and God. When attributed to men, it connotes to pray and when
applied to God it means to bless. The word shukr is another such
example. When this word is used for men, it expresses showing
gratitude on some blessings and when applied to God, it connotes
considering and accepting the good deeds of the pious servants of
God.
Similarly, tawbah (relenting), sukht (resentment), makr
(planning), al-kayd (scheming), asif (regret), hasrah (grief) and
the like have different significations. In fact, no word in the
Arabic language is applied to God without considering its proper
signification. Whenever we use any word for God, we take only
in that signification which corresponds to Gods exalted position.
This principle cannot be ignored while interpreting the Qurnic
oaths. Oaths have different aspects and significations from which
we adopt the one which corresponds to the exalted position of
God. All other significations which are not appropriate for God
cannot be taken to be applied in the Qurnic oaths.
Second, the principle of interpreting similar usages in the light
of each other, and explaining verses with the help of their
parallels also leads us to this. We see that the Qurn mentions an
argument in the form of oaths at one occasion and then presents
the same arguments, at other occasions, in simple form. In both
these cases, the basic purpose is to evidence a fact for the benefit
of those who ponder over the Qurn. God Almighty says:
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the
alternation of night and day; in the boats that sail the oceans
with cargoes beneficial to man; and in the water, which God
sent down from the sky and with which He revived the earth
after its death and dispersed over it all kinds of living creatures;
in the variation of the winds and in the clouds put to service,
between earth and the skies: surely, in these there are many
signs for men endowed with reason. (Q 2:164)
Verses of this kind abound in the Qurn. They refer to various
signs in order to bring evidence for and prove some important
theses. When we ponder over the oaths, we see that it is but these
things which have been used in the oaths as evidences of certain
facts. A reading of the oath verses would help us observe this
fact. The Qurn swears by the heavens, the earth, sun, moon,

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65

night, day, morning, forenoon, winds, clouds, mountains, seas,


cities, man, father, son, male, female, odd and even. These are
but the same phenomena which are referred to as evidencing
facts in other places. Thus their status of being evidence has been
clearly explained by the Qurn itself in other places. These sign
verses serve for us as a precedence to interpret the oaths. We
may, therefore, not interpret such oaths as serving the purpose of
glorification of the things put as the muqsam bih.
Third, the nature of the muqsam bih itself shows that the oaths
have basically not been brought to refer to the glorification of
these things. No man endowed with the power of reason can
imagine God Almighty placing His creatures on the position of a
sacred deity, especially when these things are never supposed to
have any kind of sacredness attached to them. What glorification
do the panting horses and the winds that scatter dust have?
Things used as muqsam bih, including the heavens, earth, sun,
moon, stars, etc, have elsewhere been clearly told to be among
objects controlled, harnessed and led on will. Merely swearing
by these insignificant things is enough proof that they are only
brought as witnesses and proofs, and not as anything glorious.
Fourth, a study of logical relation and connection between the
muqsam bih and the muqsam alayhi guides us to our preferred
interpretation of this type of the Qurnic oaths. The Qurn has
used such oaths in a style where a rational being never fails to
discern that they testify to the facts sworn of. That is why we see
that the author of Tafsr al-Kabr, Imm Rz (in spite of his
view that the oaths express glory of the muqsam bih and in spite
of the fact that he has gone to excesses while explaining the
oaths by the fig and the olive in terms of glorification) did not
miss the general aspect of evidence in such oaths. While dealing
with the oaths occurring in the beginning of Srah al-Dhriyt
(Q. 51), he writes: All these are evidences and proofs couched
in the form of oaths.84 Had he pondered over all such oaths
which have been brought to evidence some facts in the Qurn,
he would have opted for the same interpretation in all instances
of the use of evidentiary oaths.
Fifth, the Qurn has at times sworn by all creatures in general
terms. It has elsewhere also presented them in general terms as
signs of the Creator Lord leading to certain truths. Almighty God
84. Rz, Tafsr al-Kabr, 28: 194.

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66

says:
So I do call to witness what you see, and what you see not.
(Q 69:38-9)
This oath covers everything, hidden or manifest. This general
reference has been made at another occasion:
There is nothing which does not exalt Him with praises. (Q
17:44)
Everything in this universe praises Him and testifies to His
glory. This type of generalization of the muqsam bih and the
signs of God resembles the use of opposites, as in instances
where God swears by night and day and by the heavens and the
earth. How can one believe that God glorified everything in
general terms? Their status as open signs is obvious and
understandable. Why then should we abandon the clear meaning
and opt for an improbable implication?
Sixth, at some occasions, evidentiary oaths follow warnings
and indications which lead to the fact that the things sworn by
serve as an evidence for the muqsam alayhi. Consider the
following example:
The break of day, the ten nights, the even and the odd, and
the night when it moves on to its close, bear witness. Is there
not in it strong evidence for one possessed of understanding?
(Q 89:1-5)
What the latter part of the second verse mentioned above
implies follows most of the arguments found in the Qurn. It
has been said in Srah al-Nahl (Q. 16):
In all these things there are signs for men of understanding.
(Q 16:12)
In Srah Th (Q. 20), such arguments are followed by the
words:
Verily, in this are signs for those endowed with reason. (Q
20:54)

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67

Similarly, it has been said in l-i Imrn:


Verily, in this are signs for men endowed with discernment.
(Q 3:13)
Examples of this kind of oaths abound in the Qurn.
In the same fashion, we see in the verses of Srah al-Fajr that
the oaths sworn by the signs of God have been followed by
indication that these serve as signs and testimony for the people
of understanding and insight.
Another such indication occurring after the oaths is found in
Srah al-Wqiah (Q. 56):
Nay, I cite as proof the shooting of the stars. And, indeed,
that is a grand testimony, if you only knew. (Q 56:75-6)
The implication is that it is a great sign and a sound testimony.
Here the Qurn has clearly referred to the glory of the oath, and
not of the muqsam bih.
Seventh, the muqsam bih in the Qurn often accompanies a
particular attribute. This also indicates aspects of testimony and
argumentation. Consider some of such Qurnic examples:
By the declining star. (Q 53:1)
Nay! I call to witness the stars that recede, rush ahead and
hide. (Q 81:15-6)
Those ranging in ranks, who tantalize and recite the
Reminder bear witness. (Q 37:1-3)
The winds that scatter dust, then carry the load, then speed
lightly along, and then differentiate the affair bear witness. (Q
51:1-4)
And I call to witness the reproaching self. (Q 75:2)
Al-thurayy (Pleiades), the retreating stars, the ranking angels,
the winds scattering dust and distributing the affairs, and the
reproaching self all are evidences evoked to prove something.
They are not objects of glory.

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68

Eighth, in some cases, certain arguments and signs precede the


muqsam bih. The muqsam bih, in such instances follows
supportive arguments in a way that it clearly points to them. The
argumentative oaths are thus prefaced by clear arguments. Such
occasions also offer a very interesting study for a student of the
Qurnic structuredness. I explain this fact by the help of the
following example. It has been said in Srah al-Dhriyt:
On the earth are signs for those who believe and also in your
own selves. Do you not see? And in the heavens is your
sustenance, and also that which you are promised. (Q 51:2022)
These verses imply that the earth contains signs of the
Providence of God Almighty leading to the Last Day. Such signs
are scattered everywhere. Elsewhere, this fact has been further
explicated. We see that just after the mention of the earth and of
the heavens, which carry signs of the Last Judgment or of the
need of recompense, God has stated:
And by the Lord of the heavens and the earth it (i.e.
recompense and judgment and not the Qurn as many
commemorators have opined) is certainly the truth, it is as
true as you speak. (Q 51:23)
It is obvious that this oath, besides having an aspect of
glorification (for it is sworn by God), gives clear meaning of
argumentation, as it refers to the signs found in the heavens and
the earth. The muqsam bih has been carefully expressed in such
a way as to point out the clear and manifest argumentation from
the empirical signs dealt with in the preceding verses. Since the
aspect of glorification of the muqsam bih was more prominent
in this oath (which could have made the argumentative aspect of
the oath to disappear), simple and separate arguments have
prefaced the oath.
The above Qurnic proofs sufficiently validate my view. Still
however, someone may question this by asking why the correct
view has remained unclear to the earlier authorities. He may,
based on this, maintain that this novel approach is unconvincing.
We take up this issue in the coming section.
_______________

Section: 16

Causes of Obscurity of the Correct View


What I have mentioned regarding the views of the scholars in
the preceding chapters makes it clear that my view is not novel.
However, some aspects of this approach have not been open to
the earlier scholars. They did not stick to it fully, letting it off
their hands on one occasion, and mixing it with other theses at
another. I will now proceed to explain the causes of their failure
to understand and adhere to it fully, so that their excuses can be
identified.
First, at many places, the muqsam bih by nature is a glorious
thing. The Qurn, the Mount Tr, the city of Makkah, the sun,
moon, stars, time, night and day, all have some aspects of glory.
In such cases, the earlier scholars did not need to explain that the
oaths are argumentative in nature. They considered taking an
oath by the glorified and dignified things as common practice.
Whenever they found a muqsam bih containing various
significations, they attached to it the meaning corresponding to
glory. This kept them from further study and thus they failed to
find the correct view and remained content with the most
ordinary and common interpretation. Water continues to flow to
the downside until it is hampered.
Second, our scholars generally adopt universally applicable
approaches. They are seldom attracted to an approach that cannot
be applied to even a certain part of the phenomenon. The
argumentative nature of the oaths of the Qurn, despite being so
pronounced in some cases, is less clear in others. When they did
not find this aspect of the oaths clear in all cases, they concluded
that it would be wrong to interpret the oaths as argumentative in
nature. It would be better if they had confessed their inability and
referred the issue to Almighty God, but they seldom show
humility and rarely confess their shortcomings. This is exactly
what happened with their attitude towards the question of

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coherence in the Qurn. The coherence in the Qurn is obvious


and palpable in most cases. Only a few places offer difficulties.
Had they again here confessed their lack of knowledge as some
of them have done, it would be more befitting to them. But we
see that they did not mean to hold the view that the coherence is
absent from the Qurn, but rather they meant that it was not
applicable to the whole of the Qurn as a general principle. This
led many people to believe that coherence is absent from the
Book altogether and that all is disjointed and confused discourse.
The correct approach is to prefer and stick to views
corroborated by evidence and established by proofs. This is what
the Qurn directs us to do:
Those who listen to a command and then follow the best of it.
These are they whom God has guided and who are men of
understanding. (Q 39:18)
We ought to ascribe any difficulty we face in understanding the
oaths of the Qurn to a lack of knowledge on our part. We
should hope that God will create ease for us after we have
experienced difficulties. He will strengthen us after we have
broken apart. Disciplines always keep growing. God leads to the
truth whomever He wills. Mere dimness of the argumentative
aspect of some of the oaths should not lead us to adopt a wrong
and absurd interpretation. The verses containing plain arguments
themselves are not always so clear as to not require any analysis
at all. The Qurn has certified this and has called us to
pondering it and to exert our efforts to understand it. It is only
men of understanding and the pious that may get guidance from
it, as has been repeatedly asserted in the Qurn and the Divine
Scriptures. Yet, no believer denies certitude and unassailability
of the Qurnic arguments. Desire to know the truth is the first
step towards the path of pondering over the Qurn. One must
continue applying his mind to appreciate the Qurnic arguments
until difficulties are solved, heart is satisfied and sure knowledge
is obtained.
I, by the grace of God, have obtained satisfaction on this view
after I have pondered all of the Qurnic oaths. I have come to
understand that these oaths are argumentative in nature. It is only
the Qurn which has guided me to this view through various
indications, as have been discussed above.

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Third, when the scholars, especially the earliest ones, noticed


that oaths are mostly sworn by Almighty God or His shair,
they were led to assume that it was the essence and crux of the
oaths. Having formed this view, when they embarked upon
interpreting other kinds of oaths, they interpreted them in
accordance with their view and considered them as allegorical
use of oaths. They adopted the view that wherever the actual
meaning was not possible to defend in an oath, one should rely
on allegorical interpretation. We believe that both of these claims
are wrong. If a particular aspect of oaths was used more often
than other aspects, it did not necessarily mean that the dominant
use formed the crux of the practice. Nor should the allegorical
interpretation be adopted only when we cannot find the literal
meaning probable in a context. The correct view is that one has
to accept such interpretations that are more in accord with, and
that more beautifully fit in the context. Moreover, the chosen
usage must be corroborated by and established in the classical
Arabic literature.
When these people put the branch at the stead of the root, the
true aspect of the oaths, their argumentative nature, was lost
upon them. They were only forced to admit the argumentative
nature of some oaths because this aspect was very much obvious
and clear in those places. The Qurn has, by such clear
examples, called them to the correct view very openly and
attracted them strongly to it. They still persisted on their earlier
assumptions. Thus, the true nature of the Qurnic oaths was not
screened by the Qurn, but by the assumptions of the
interpreters. May God forgive them!
Fourth, most referents of the muqsam bih in the Qurnic oaths
have multiple aspects. However, only a single particular aspect is
prominent. Take, for example, the story of destruction of
Pharaoh and his people. Most famously they were destroyed by
water. People did not see the role of winds in this process
whereas the truth of the matter is that whole phenomenon
involved one of the uses of the wind by order of its Lord. Similar
is the case with the Noachian flood, as we have explained in our
commentary on Srah al-Dhriyt (Q. 51). Wherever the
relationship between the muqsam bih and the muqsam alayhi
was dependent on any of such aspects, the argumentative nature
of the oaths was lost upon those who could not discover the
correct sort of relationship between the muqsam bih and

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muqsam alayhi. Since the detail of such punishment stories was


not helpful in understanding the principle beliefs and major
directives, our scholars did not find it very demanding to fully
discuss them.
Fifth, (this cause is apparently similar to the previous one) our
scholars have always cherished rational and historical disciplines
and have attached less importance to more excellent branches of
knowledge in tafsr, including the language of the Qurn and of
the earlier Scriptures, the history of the Semitic nations, their
disciplines and their culture. Since this problem does not have a
direct bearing specifically upon the Qurnic oaths, we do not go
into detailed discussion in this regard. Indeed I do not find it
necessary to cover all the causes of failure to understand the true
nature of such oaths. Therefore, I conclude this discussion at this
point. I believe this short exposure to the issue is sufficient.
_______________

Section: 17

Rhetorical Aspect and Intricacies of Oath


If these oaths are arguments, then why has this not been plainly
mentioned? We need to appreciate that there are different levels
and various kinds of argumentative discourse. There are some
contended issues to which humans are not psychologically
attracted to. There could be some other issues for which they do
not feel an aversion. The problems of physics, mathematics or
the history of earlier nations are such examples. In this case, the
arguments are better put plainly. However, sometimes we need
to argue for issues which have a psychological aspect. In such
issues, both the addressor and the audience develop a kind of
inclination or reluctance, deterrence or condescension, and
insistence or importunity. In these matters, it is considered
necessary to argue at different levels. One employs different
styles of expression with varied degree of clarity, intricacy,
sharpness and persuasion.
At times, one feels it necessary to change a style of expression.
He intends to avoid offending the audience. He may do so in
hope that some of the styles of expression may prove more
successful in convincing the audience. This last approach has
been clearly referred to in the Qurn. The Almighty says:
See how we expound our verses in various ways that they
may understand! (Q 6:65)
Abraham (sws) adopted this very approach while dealing with
the one who argued with him about the Lord. Abraham (sws) did
not insist on the first argument he had offered. He, on the
contrary, brought forward another argument which was,
according to him, more readily understandable for the
interlocutor. Thus the disbeliever was confounded. (Q 2:258)
This is summary of my response to the above mentioned
question. Another important thing is that, in an instance of

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argumentation couched in the style of oaths, there are useful


indicators opening up various doors of rhetorical devices. Such
devices are further decorated by layers of beauties of style. I
wish to explain such important points to you which will help you
see the rhetorical beauties of this style of argumentation.
First, it produces firm emphatic statements. This is clearly
noticeable in the statements attributed to the Christian Apostles
as quoted in the Qurn:
They said: Our Lord knows that we are, indeed His
Messengers to you and our duty is only plain delivery of the
Message. (Q 36:16-7)
Similarly at another occasion, the Almighty says:
This sky brimful of rain and the earth which splits bear
witness that this is a decisive word and it is no jest. (Q 86: 1114)
The Arabs knew that when a cultivated and free man took an
oath, he in fact externalized his will with full force. He negated
any aspect of frivolity on his part. This is why the oaths have
been abundantly used in the revelations coming down in
beginning of the Prophetic call. The seriousness and solemnity
from the Prophets (sws) part was thus fully conveyed to his
audience. This has been clearly indicated to in both of the above
mentioned verses. This objective was achieved because of a
certain characteristic of the oaths. It was not obtained because of
glorification of the muqsam bih. This can be further explained
by an example. We sometimes emphasize our assertions and
negations by putting them in the form of simple or exclamatory
questions or stressed exclamations. These expressions are
formed by the help of words of address. For example, they say
y lalmi (flood!!) when they find a sudden flood of water.
Such expressions add to the element of seriousness and firmness
on the part of the speaker.
Second, oaths are exclamatory in their form. They do not leave
the interlocutor with a ready opportunity to reject it. He could,
however, reject the muqsam alayhi. This is because the muqsam
alayhi is in the form of a positive statement. He can in no way
reject the oath itself because it is an exclamation. Exclamations

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do not accept any negation. Oaths in this respect are similar to a


sifah (adjective). It is not possible for one to promptly reject a
sifah. This is possible only because of the structure of the oath
and the sifah. Otherwise, semantically, both are positive
assertions liable to be rejected or accepted.
Sometimes, the Qurnic oaths make use of these things
simultaneously. The oaths sworn by the glorious Qurn, the
promised day, the distributors of the affairs, the distinguishing
ones, or the ranking ones are examples. If we analyze and
explain any of these oaths, we see that they are but two distinct
positive and informative sentences. They may be paraphrased as
follows: The angels are ranked in lines like slaves, the winds
differentiate and distinguish by the order of God, these people
have an appointed day, and this Qurn is glorified. All these
things are positive statements (akhbr) couched in the form of
attributes. This style of swearing an oath further made use of
the argumentative nature of these things. It has, therefore, been
claimed that all these things are signs and arguments which
prove certain theses.
If, at any occasion, the interlocutor is expected to be able to
respond with negation, then various other techniques are used to
avert such a strike. Thus at times the address is directed at the
Prophet (sws) [instead of the real addressee], as has been done in
the following verse:
This is Srah Ysn. By the Qurn full of wisdom, you are
indeed one of the Messengers. (Q 36:1-3)
In some other occasions the complement of the oath which has
to be in the form of positive statement is suppressed. In such
cases, only the muqsam bih suffices for the purpose. However,
instantly afterwards another theme is introduced which
corroborates the suppressed complement of the oath so that the
interlocutor does not find enough respite to interpret the
injunctive sentence as a positive statement and start arguing
against it. At such occasions, the addressee turns to listen to what
follows the oath. He is instantly faced with new things which
further strengthen the preceding arguments. Consider the
following example:
This is Srah Sd. We cite as proof the Qurn, full of

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exhortation. But the disbelievers are steeped in false pride


and enmity. (Q 38:1-2)
Here the injunctive sentence has been considered sufficient and
the informative sentence has been avoided. The attribute of the
Qurn has taken the stead of the informative sentence. The
whole could thus be paraphrased as follows: The Qurn bears
witness to the fact that it is the reminder and exhortation for
them. The attributes of the real addressees have been put. They
were not in a position to deny it. Rather they took pride in those
qualities. It has been explained that their rejection of the message
is a product of their ignorant zealotry and their enmity for the
truth.
Another such example from the Qurn follows:
This is Srah Qf. By the glorious Qurn! But they wonder
that there has come to them a warner from among themselves.
These disbelievers say: This is a strange thing. (Q 50:1-2)
These verses tell us that the glorious Qurn itself bears witness
to the fact that it is a very clear warner for them from Almighty
God. They, however, are rejecting it only because they deem it
quite strange that such a task of warning has been entrusted to a
commoner among themselves.
However, if something sworn is of the kind in which the
addressee does not negate, then the complement of the oath has
not been suppressed. Consider the following example:
This is Srah Hmm. This perspicuous Book is sure
evidence to the fact that we have made it an Arabic Qurn
that you may understand. (Q 43:1-3)
This oath stresses that the Qurn is a clear book. The
complement of the oath affirms that it is an Arabic Qurn. Both
of these things were acceptable to the addressees. As for its
being a revelation of God, it has not been distinctively claimed.
This is in fact implied in the statement for God has attributed it
to Himself.85 This was to make sure that the addressees could not
85. The Almighty says: We have made it Arabic Qurn. This
implies that the Qurn is the book revealed by God. This fact however

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instantly turn to negate the implied and intended message.


Were it not for the fear of lengthiness and departure from the
real issue, we would have explained in detail the suppression of
the muqsam alayhi and the benefits of suppressing it. Rather, we
believe that it would be better to explain these issues under the
commentary on the oath verses.86
Third, oaths afford a compact and brief style. Clarity of
meaning in a particular style of expression is added with the
degree of brevity it displays. In brief and compact statements, the
real meaning is not lost in verbiage. Thus brevity adds to the
clarity and the force of the expression. Compact statements, one
can say, sharpen the expression and bring the audience near to
the meaning. This is exactly why metaphor is often considered a
more effective rhetorical device than the simile. We do not feel a
need to explain the importance and beauty of brevity of
expression, for it can be learned from any book on balghah.
Some contemporary experts in this science have exaggerated its
beauties. They maintained that brevity is another name of
balghah. This view goes out of bounds by limiting all the
beauties and niceties of Arabic balghah to this single rhetorical
device. They have in fact considered brevity as the foundation of
balghah because of the divarication of this art and the variety of
its aspects. These experts, therefore, find themselves facing
brevity from wherever they approach the art of balghah. Thus
they attach to it extraordinary importance and a central role in
this science. We, however, believe that these experts failed to
grasp the correct view regarding the issue.
We believe that the uses of brevity of expression include the
opportunity it allows you to put various arguments in compact
form in succession. When all such arguments lead to a single
conclusion from various aspects, they produce unusual effects on
the audience, and the issue being argued is easily established.
This is best presented by the oaths occurring in Srah al-Tr (Q.
52), al-Balad (Q. 90) and al-Tn (Q. 95). If the discourse in these
srahs is interrupted by an otherwise plain explanation of the
is not conspicuously and prominently put and as such it cannot be
instantly detected and negated by a contestant among the audience.
86. Farh, in his unfinished commentary on the Qurn, could deal
only with the oaths occurring in the following srahs of the Book: 51,
75, 77, 91, 95, and 103.

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arguments, the coherence would have been destroyed, and the


force of argument lost. Another example is perhaps that of the
oaths occurring in Srah al-Fajr (Q. 89), al-Shams (Q. 91) and
al-Layl (Q. 92).
The Arabs, because of their intelligence and their pride, were
fonder of brevity than other people. This is why we find that
everything in the Qurn is characterized by compactness. Fewer
words carry more meaning. If the Qurn expansively explains a
theme in one aspect, it puts it in brevity at other occasions
highlighting other aspects. This also addresses the assertion that
the niceties of the Qurn will never exhaust.
Fourth, oaths let the audience participate in adducing evidence.
This helps remove the sense of confrontation from their minds.
Humans find a conclusion more pleasing and agreeable when
they themselves reach at it after due consideration of the relevant
facts. On the contrary, if a speaker spoon-feeds the audience,
disallowing them an active part in the discourse, he bores them
and makes the dialogue hard even if they are convinced of the
evidence. An unconvinced audience would no doubt run from
the speaker and shut their ears on the whole debate. The speaker
loses both ways.
Employment of oaths to furnish arguments in a way resembles
the use of questions instead of simple informative sentences. We
often say: Do you not see? or have you considered this?
The Prophet (sws) used this technique in his last sermon when
he asked his audience: Which city is this? Which month is this?
What day is today? (Bukhr, No: 1652) This way, the speaker
acquires attention of the audience who are naturally attracted to
this kind of interactive dialogue. The Qurn has used both these
techniques simultaneously in the beginning of Srah al-Fajr (Q.
89). Here, the Qurn calls to witness various natural phenomena
and invites the audience to think and ponder over the divine
planning, decrees, and justice exhibited by these. This has then
been followed by the divine saying:
Do not you see in it strong evidence for one possessed of
understanding? (Q 89:1-5)
A similar example is the following verses:
The sky and those which appear in the nightand what do

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you understand what those which appear in the night are?


Shining starsbear witness that. (Q 86:1-3)
Intelligent debaters lead the audience to their claims smoothly
without condemning the latters view. This makes their audience
think that they have reached the conclusion themselves. This
explains why a metaphor is considered a better rhetorical device
than a clear comparison.
Fifth, oaths help the speaker present the argument garbed in
some other form and avoid argumentation. A careful analyst will
easily find that the Qurn, in its oaths, first introduces an issue
to the audience and invites him to reason for himself. Then it
gradually leads him to the conclusion in a very subtle way. For
example, in Srah al-Dhriyt (Q. 51), the Almighty swore by
winds that take dust (al-dhriyt) and then He referred to their
function to differentiate the affair (al-muqassimti amran). This
latter point functions as evidence. It has not been put directly.
Similarly, Srah al-Mursalt (Q. 77) begins with swearing by the
unleashed winds (mursalti urfan). Then it introduces their
certain functions till the discourse reaches the point where they
are presented as dealing the people separately: reminding the
people either in order to leave them with no excuse or to merely
warn them (verses 3-5). If the phenomenon of the winds
differentiating between different people, something that is meant
to be brought to notice of the audience, were put simply in the
beginning, the addressee could have instantly rejected the thesis.
This style of presenting proofs in the form of oaths deters the
contenders from confrontation. I do not repeat the second point
where the use of argumentation in the form of insh was
discussed. That aspect of argumentation shuts the door of
negation and rejection. Here, quite distinctively, I wish to refer
to the fact that this style of argumentation does not leave the
contender with an opportunity to argue against the thesis
presented in the oaths. It is as though he forgets to resort to
confrontation. This technique is not peculiar to subjunctive
(inshiyyah) statements. It works with informative sentences
too. Consider the following verse:
The (salvation) history bears witness that man is in loss. (Q
103: 1-2)

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This sentence is informative in some aspects. Still, however, it


is not simple argumentation. This thesis, for example, could be
simply put as follows: Indeed man is loser in the end, for every
passing day cuts his age. This line of reasoning, in spite of
being self evident and clear, invites rejection from an
argumentative mind; or if the contender does not reject it, he will
not find it difficult to negate the conclusions this statement leads
to, i.e. relying on faith and pious deeds. He may claim: No, man
is in great benefit. He buys what he cherishes and wins what he
desires during this ephemeral life. Or, he may respond thus:
We know that we cannot escape death. Therefore we should
enjoy the pleasures of life. This is what Imru al-Qays, the
wretched and strayed poet says:
Enjoy beautiful women and drinks, pleasure of this world.
You are mortal after all.87
It is evidently a slippery argument. However when the door to
argumentation is once opened, then any kind of idle talk can be
passed on as arguments. The more you bring the discussion to
light, the more the contenders would wander in the mazes of
their whims. This makes it important for you to avoid the line of
argumentation leading to confrontation. Since the Arabs proved
to be more disputatious than any other nation, the Qurn,
considering their disposition, puts certain theses in the form of
oaths. The following verse refers to this very characteristic of the
Arabs:
They have mentioned this to you only for the sake of
disputation. Nay, but they are a contentious people. (Q 43:58)
The Qurn has, at another place, plainly called them a
contentious people. (Q 19:97) This and the previous aspect
discuss subtleties of arguments couched in the form of oaths. By
adopting this style, you can stop the addressee from rejecting the
thesis and entering into a disputation, as well as incite them on
critically analyzing the issue.
Sixth, oaths are characterized by overwhelming resplendence
which adds gracefulness to the opening passages of the srahs.
87. Imru al-Qays, Dwn, 148.

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The oaths, when occurring in the start of the srahs, shine forth
like glaring prominent marks. They rarely occur in the middle of
the srahs. Wherever they occur in the middle, they function as a
refrain in an ode.
Oaths are not basically used to embellish expressions. However,
since they inaugurate the srahs in most cases, they work as
embellishers as well. Such excellent and pictorial expressions
have been employed in the oaths as are used in introductions to
books or eloquent sermons. Such a beautiful start often fills the
eyes and the heart of the audience with awe and beauty. Nothing
works better as pictorial expression than the oaths. When you
swear by a thing, you present it before the audience as a witness to
your claim. You evoke imagery.
Whenever the Almighty intended to decorate the start of the
srahs with imagery, He employed the oaths. The image-making
words used in the oaths are of different kinds. Sometimes a single
item has been invoked. The pen, the scribe, the shining star, the
panting horses, the winds that scatter dust, and the ranking angels
represent different things interrelated by a common denominator.
Similar is the case of the oaths of Srah al-Tn (Q. 95) sworn by
al-tn, al-zaytn and the Mount Sinai, as well as the things sworn
by in Srah al-Tr (Q. 52) including the mount Tr, the composed
book, the inhabited house, the elevated canopy, and the swelling
ocean. The oaths by the sun, moon, night, day, earth, heavens and
soul etc, refer to certain circumstances and empirical phenomena
invoked to prove something important. Other than evidencing
some important point, these things serve no logical purpose in the
discourse. Evidencing a thesis in a variety of styles is adopted only
in consideration of the audience which has to be won over. The
speaker desires the audience to keep listening. He does not afford
that his addressee turn a deaf ear to him. The best exhortation and
the most convincing argument is that offered in soft language,
keeping in consideration the view of the addressees. Almighty
God commanded His Messengers to consider this while calling
people to God. When the Almighty sent Moses (sws) and Aaron
(sws) to the Pharaoh, he advised them:
But speak to him gently so that perhaps he might take heed or
fear. (Q 20:44)
Seventh, oaths are used to put the evidence before making the

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claim. In this style, a matter is put before the adversary. This


matter itself leads him to the conclusion which corroborates the
claim of the speaker. If a disputant is already made aware of the
claim upon which the evidence is brought, he can take the
discussion around any other point. This can in turn give him an
opportunity to avoid the right conclusion. On the contrary, if the
claim is not disclosed to him before he has considered the
argument, there is a great chance that he be eventually led to the
right conclusion. If he is successfully put on the right path, he is
easily led to the final conclusion. The examples illustrating this
fact have been mentioned in the fourth and the fifth points above.
Eighth, oaths are multifaceted and rich expressions. The
argumentative aspect of the muqsam bih is not explicitly
mentioned. If a singular aspect of the argument is mentioned, it
will lead to only a single piece of evidence. But we know that at
times a single thing contains a line of meaning and variety of
aspects. This enables a scrutinizing mind with an opportunity to
look for a number of proofs from a single phenomenon sworn by
and invoked as evidence.
This aspect of the oaths is shared by the verses which present
simple argument. There a mere thing or a phenomenon is
presented. It is left upon the inquisitive mind to find evidence for a
variety of facts. Consider the following verses of the Qurn.
Do you not see that the ships sail on the sea through the
bounty of God, that He may show you His signs? There are,
surely, proofs for every patient and grateful person. (Q 31:31)
And in the earth are signs for the faithful and also in your
own self. Do not you see? (Q 51:20-1)
No human being can count the expressions of Gods power,
glory, mercy and wisdom scattered in the universe. In human
beings themselves, there are signs leading to religious facts
including the belief in the unicity of God, the need for the
institution of prophecy and the belief in the Last Judgment. I
have elaborated upon such matters in my book Hujaj alQurn.88 The Almighty presents some of His creation. He
mentions some religious belief next to it. By this He intends to
88. One of the unpublished works by the author.

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make the reader of the Book to discover different aspects of the


various possible proofs from the mentioned created things for the
stated beliefs.
If two different interpreters agree on the basic claim while
pondering over the verses and keeping the coherence of the text
in consideration, there is nothing wrong if both discover different
aspects of the arguments. The same thing or phenomenon can
lead to the same conclusion in a variety of ways. People with
different levels of understanding may discover different aspects
of proofs from a single argumentative statement. One of the
basic characteristics of the Qurn is that it contains layers of
profound wisdom. Its niceties may never exhaust, as do the
miraculous aspects of the acts and creations of God. God
Almighty says:
If all the trees that are in the earth were pens, and the ocean
replenished by seven more were ink, the words of God
would not be exhausted. Surely, God is Mighty, Wise. (Q
31:27)
I conclude this discussion about the rhetorical purposes of the
Qurnic oaths. I did not target exhaustive treatment of the issue.
In fact nobody can.
The above explains the meanings of the oaths and their different
forms. The last two objections regarding the Qurnic oaths, it is
hoped, have been fully clarified. In the sixth and tenth section of
the book, our discussion around the use of oaths in social,
financial, and political aspects of the personal, national and
international interaction of humans has fully refuted the first
objection. The only thing that remains to be dealt with is the
question as to why has it been forbidden in some of the earlier
scriptures to take an oath, whereas oaths have been used in the
Scriptures, the speeches of the great orators and rhetoricians.
_______________

Section: 18
Desirable and Undesirable Oath

Since oaths are sworn in order either to present oneself or the


Almighty as witness to some facts, in both cases, the oath-taker
puts his honor or religion on stake. It is not something to play
with. This entails that an oath may not be taken unless in grave
matters and that too with solemn resolution. This is why it has
been forbidden in certain cases:
i. from the perspective of muqsam alayhi
ii. from the perspective of muqsam bih
iii. from the perspective of the both.
i. Whoever takes an oath in every petty matter proves to be an
unserious person. Such a man does not succeed in upholding his
personal honor. That is why the Almighty has forbidden this act
in the Qurn. The relevant Qurnic verse uses very emphatic
language. The Almighty says:
Heed not every despicable (mahn) swearer (hallf). (Q 68:10)
Whoever takes to swearing an oath on every petty matter puts
himself down no matter he swears by God or anything else. He is
an unreasonable person who gets enraged or laughs out without
provocation. This renders swearing undesirable considering the
muqsam alayhi.
ii. Swearing a religious oath in the name of other than God is
tantamount to taking that entity as partner besides God. The
prohibition to take an oath by an entity other than God generally
shuts the door for polytheism. This is identical to the prohibition
to prostrate oneself before other than God or carving idols as
stated in the tenth commandments. Thus swearing by other than
God is prohibited. It has been said in the Old Testament:

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You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall
take oaths in His name. (Deuteronomy 6:13)
Similarly the Prophet (sws) too prohibited taking oaths by
anything other than God.
3. Sometimes a man swears by God upon every petty matter.
Such an act combines two things, lack of personal honor and
absence of God-consciousness (taqw). The following saying of
God Almighty refers to this aspect of oaths.
And do not use Gods name as an excuse in your oaths. (Q
2:224)
Under these considerations, oaths are to be avoided. Other than
this, it is allowable to swear especially under social necessities
discussed in the seventh and tenth section of this work.
The Islamic sharah has been revealed for the entire humanity.
It is applicable till the Day of Judgment. It takes into account the
social and cultural needs of human beings. It does not impose
strict detailed laws in matters pertaining to cultural aspect of life.
It also considers the inherent weakness of human nature as has
been alluded to in the following verse of the Qurn:
God desires to lighten your burden, for man has been created
weak. (Q 4: 28)
Therefore, it was not appropriate to promulgate absolute
prohibition to swear an oath, an unavoidable proceeding in the
conducting of important religious and social issues. Similarly the
sharah has not held unintentional conversational oaths as
punishable. In this regard, the Almighty says:
God shall not call you to account for your inadvertent oaths.
However, He shall hold you accountable for the ones that you
take with intention in your hearts. Indeed God is the
Forgiving, the Tolerant. (Q 2:225)
Actions are judged by intentions. Inadvertent oaths, though
reflect incivility, are not punishable. The Lord of men forgives
His servants. He showers mercy on them considering their
weakness. He does not hold them accountable for small and

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insignificant errors.
The above discussion specifically pertains to the general oaths.
As for the Qurnic oaths they are clearly oaths of evidence, and
there is no danger of losing religion and honor in taking such an
oath. No disgrace attaches them.
The Qurnic oaths mostly support assertions concerning unicity
of God, the Last Judgment and the Prophecy. All these issues are
evidently glorious in nature and most worthy to be emphasized by
way of an oath. If one swears that these facts are true he does not
stake his self respect and honor. One should not prohibit swearing
of these facts fearing that affirming these facts is to admit things
liable to be untrue. Admitting such fears and doubting the veracity
of these manifest religious truths would put his faith in danger.
This is because these facts do not admit of any doubt. Such oaths
reflect witnessing religious facts which the Prophets of God have
always been openly promoting. A Prophet, in his preaching in
general, claims that God has sent him knowingly. He claims that
God witnesses his veracity. He asserts that he depends upon God
and relies on Him. He states that he holds God a guarantor of his
claims. These are the themes which are stressed by swearing by
God as has been explained in the tenth section. Then why should
not He adopt oaths to emphasize these claims? It is evident that
when God takes an oath by any of His creations, or by His words,
there is no possibility of polytheism in this proceeding. It is also
clear that such oaths are only taken in order to present proof for
certain facts. These do not involve any kind of glorification of
muqsam bih.
To conclude, we hold that the objections on the Qurnic oaths
or on the oaths of the Prophets or the pious individuals as well as
absolute prohibition of swearing are rooted in a lack of analysis
and a failure to differentiate between different aspects of divine
directives. By swearing by God, the Prophets and the pious people
express that they rely on God, turn to Him and seek His help. This
is the real picture of the question on legality of swearing an oath.
However, it has been attributed to Jesus Christ (sws) that he
rendered taking an oath in general as prohibited. We believe that
this prohibition is specific and not general. To this point now we
turn.
_______________

Section: 19

Evangelical Prohibition of Oath


We know that Gospels as we have them are not the original
text delivered by Jesus (sws). What we have in our hands is the
translations of the original Injl. The Gospels mix the sayings of
Jesus Christ (sws) with the statements of the reporters. Its
narratives vary and sometimes mutually contradict. It is not
traced back to the Prophet (sws) and is not authentic. The text of
the Gospels is disarrayed and confused. Keeping the above facts
about the text of the present Gospels in perspective, we cannot
resort to it and rely on it in our efforts to know the will of God.
We may, however, discuss it supposing it to be authentic and
accept its assertions just for the sake of discussion.
A detailed prohibition of taking an oath occurs in the famous
Sermon of the Mount according to the Gospel of Matthew. It
does not find mention in the Gospels of Mark and John. An
abridged version, however, has been given in the Gospel of
Luke. I have selected, for this discussion, the Gospel of Luke
because of its compactness.
If you study this sermon and ponder over its verses with special
attention to the context in which they occur, it would become
clear that Jesus (sws) does not speak to the general public. He
does not aim at giving a code of religious law parallel to the one
found in the Torah. On the contrary, he specifically addresses his
disciples and his immediate followers under consideration of a
great wisdom which we shall learn soon. My claim that it was
not a general proclamation and that it was specially meant for
certain people is based on the following:
First, Jesus (sws) himself has made it clear. We see that this
sermon follows the following statement of the Prophet Jesus
(sws) according to Matthew:
And when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he
opened his mouth, and taught them, saying: (Matthew 5: 1-2)

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Similarly it has been stated in the Gospel of Luke that he went


out into a mountain and spent his night in prayer to God. He
called unto him his disciples. He chose twelve disciples from
among them. This description follows Jesus (sws) famous
sermon. He said:
Blessed be you poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now: for you shall be filled. [.]
(Luke 6: 20-1) Blessed are you, when men shall hate you, and
when they shall separate you from their company, and shall
reproach you, and cast out your name as evil. [.] (Luke 6:
22) But woe unto you that are rich! for you have received
your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for you shall
hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for you shall mourn
and weep. (Luke 6: 24-5)
Second, this sermon contains directives which only relate to the
poor and the destitute. We see that the Prophet Jesus (sws) has not
only forbidden taking oaths, he has also proscribed accumulating
wealth, hording it for future use, and preserving ones honor and
self respect. The last directive received so much stress and
emphasis from him that he exhorted his disciples on the following:
If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other
also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from
taking your tunic also. Give to everyone who asks you, and if
anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
(Luke 6: 39-30)
Third, some directives included in this sermon apparently
abrogate some of the directives of the Torah. Jesus (sws),
however, avoids this clearly. He expressly negated such a notion
even before he mentioned these commands in his sermon. He
says:
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I
did not come to destroy but to fulfill. (Mathew 5:16)
He also removed another possible confusion: moral and
religious excellence does not require self-denial. He explained

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that self-denial is an additional virtue. While opting for


asceticism and self-denial one escapes sins at the stake of
avoiding the trial of the world in which he has been put through.
Jesus (sws) adopted this behavior himself only to guide those
who cannot attain religious and moral perfection otherwise. He
declared:
Student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully
trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6: 40)
The innovators did not find it agreeable to consider self-denial
and asceticism as an additional virtue. They, therefore, added the
following words in the Gospel of Matthew:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5: 48)
The same sentence in Luke has been changed into the following:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)
This is obviously absurd. How can the status of God be receded
to that of His mortal servants? Still, however, the truth has
remained transparent and has survived adulterations in spite of
its enemies. Let us see how he has stated what defies any
possibility of polytheistic sense and explains that Jesus (sws)
perfection which he attained through renouncing the world was
an additional virtue specifically meant for the poor. It has been
reported in Matthew:
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked: Teacher, what good
thing must I do to get eternal life? Why do you call me as
good? Jesus replied. There is only One who is good. If you
want to enter life, obey the commandments. Which ones?
the man inquired. Jesus replied, Do not murder, do not
commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony,
honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as
yourself. All these I have kept, the young man said. What
do I still lack? Jesus answered, If you want to be perfect,
go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will
have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the

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young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had


great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, I tell you the
truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
(Mathew 19: 16-23)
Thus he has explained to the questioner that, for him, the
perfection would mean following Jesus (sws) and separation
from the worldly riches. It is obviously not the perfection
required of all the humans. We see that Abraham (sws), David
(sws), Solomon (sws), and Joseph (sws) all had great wealth and
they showed perfect religious and moral behavior. Can we hold
they did not enter the kingdom of heavens? So this removes the
doubt arising from the Bible and explains away the apparent
contradiction between the Gospels and the Torah.
Fourth, these exhortations, if considered general commands,
would then be in stark opposition to the practice (sunnah) of the
divine guides, the Prophets of God, including Abraham (sws),
David (sws) and others. They have fought, became victorious,
gathered wealth, spent it in the positive purposes, and they never
lived on the wealth of others. This thing has not escaped the
notice of the Christian scholars. They then inserted words which
change the original meaning of the text. They have included the
word in spirit in the following sentence:
Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Matthew 5:3)
Similarly they added the words for righteousness in the
following sentence:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for
they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)
However, all these changes could not remove the reality of the
matter and it remains clear that the discourse is evidently
addressed to the poor. They changed the words of Jesus (sws)
only because they could not understand their true application.
We will come to that later.
The above discussion, it is hoped, sufficiently proves that these
directives were specifically meant for a particular group of

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people of the past. These are not permanent divine directives


guiding people to achieve excellence in social behavior and
secure cultivation of the self. This does not form part of the
everlasting law of God which is the conspicuous characteristic of
the Islamic sharah. Only Islam provides permanent guidance
which includes the divine directive to first submit ones self and
wealth to the disposal of God and spend it in His cause. God
Almighty says:
Surely, God has purchased of the believers their persons and
their property. (Q 9:111)
When it has become clear that these directives are specifically
meant for a certain group of people, there remains no ground to
maintain that oaths are prohibited in general. We know on the
basis of reason and received knowledge that it is allowable and
there is a great need to resort to it. We are the Muslim people.
We respect the Prophets of God, all of them. We do not
reinterpret (twl) their statements and take it to mean that
defies reason and moral values.
The above discussion in a way explains what we intend to
mention in the next section that is the wisdom according to
which Jesus Christ (sws) specifically subjected a certain group to
these directives. We will try to remain brief because a thorough
discussion is out of scope.
_______________

Section: 20

Wisdom behind Specificness of the Command


Christians do not find it imperative to reconcile the received
knowledge with reason. They believe that the religion operates
beyond reason. However, some of them, with philosophical
tendencies, endeavored to defend their religion against all kinds
of rational attacks. However, for this love for rationalization of
religion, they are always condemned and branded as heretics by
both the scholars and the commoners among their co-religionists.
Famous religious philosopher and thinker Spinoza who was an
expert in Hebrew language is one such scholar.
Before I deal with my understanding of these exhortations, I
wish to present the view of this philosopher concerning these
directives. This will enable us understand that he agrees with me
as far as the specificness of these commands to a particular
group living under particular circumstances is concerned. This
will also help us understand difference between the approaches
of the Christian and Muslim scholars. It will also help us see that
my view, besides being explicitly well established, is more
respectful to the sharah of the Prophet Jesus (sws).
Spinoza believes that Jesus Christ (sws) commanded his
followers what amounts to surrendering before and showing
humility to the oppressors. This was, he says, because at the time
this directive was issued his followers were under the tyrant
rulers. He had to command them not to show resistance to the
evil. He required them to offer their cheeks for slaps among
other similar things. According to Spinoza, these directives were
not given considering the objectives of virtue, religiosity or
beauty of manners. These, quite distinctly, corresponded to their
political status at that time. It was the best affordable and
expedient approach in those circumstances.
This scholar has great knowledge of the lives of the Prophets
and enjoys profound understanding of their books. He holds that

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these directives were meant for a particular people living under


particular circumstances. However, he did not reach at the
correct wisdom behind this specificity of the directives. Though
he considered the rational aspect of the directives yet failed to
regard the divine status of the sharah, Jesus (sws) and his
disciples.
My view in this regard follows. A careful reader of the Gospels
does not fail to understand that Jesus Christ (sws) came giving
glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven. What does the kingdom
of heaven he prophesied mean? It was but the rule of Gods
religion. God had previously bestowed power upon the Jews.
They lost it. The windmill of times ran its course upon them.
They were, now, expecting to regain power another time as God
had promised them. Jesus (sws) gave the glad tiding that it was
nearing. He tried to explain this to them with the help of many
examples and parables, which clearly corresponded to the advent
of the Prophet Muhammad (sws), the last Prophet of God.
The majority of his people disbelieved. Their scholars
disappointed him. They were a hard hearted people who had
taken up love of worldly pleasures. The Prophet Jeusus (sws)
chose a small group of simple hearted poor commoners from
among his nation. He wanted to purify them from selfindulgence and greediness so that it does not become difficult for
them to enter the kingdom of heaven when it faces them. They
would be, after entering the kingdom of heaven, bestowed upon
the perfect and complete sharah of God. It was because of this
consideration he gave them commands which could ensure that
they kept on embracing destitution and poverty so that they
could keep guarding God-consciousness, purity of heart and
perseverance. This would make their God turn to them according
to His established manner of dealing with His servants and fulfill
His promise. The above only points out to the relevant facts. The
issue has, however, been exhaustively discussed in its original
appropriate place.
We have adopted this interpretation of the verses of the
Gospels because it renders the statements of Jesus (sws) as the
greatest glad tiding and prophecy on the one hand and remains
perfectly compatible with reason and reconcilable to the reported
historical facts on the other. Therefore, we see that it perfectly
fits with the circumstances of the Christians and their history as

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foretold by Jesus (sws). We know that a group among his


followers opted for destitution and spent whatever they
possessed in the way of God. While another group among them
cherished worldly gains and condemned the first one branding
them with the name of the destitute. This is what Jesus (sws) had
pointed out in the beginning of his sermon. The sin of these poor
followers of Jesus (sws) was no more than to spend their wealth
in the way of God, to stick to their original financial position,
follow the Torah, prohibit the pork, command circumcision,
disbelieve in divinity of Jesus (sws), reject other than the original
Hebrew Gospel which the latter Christians lost, and to condemn
Paul who disfigured the religion of Jesus (sws). He had fervently
opposed the disciples and proclaimed that he learnt from Jesus
(sws) through visions and that he did not need to turn to his
disciples for guidance.
When the kingdom of heaven manifested itself by the hands of
Muhammad (sws), the Last Prophet of God, majority of the poor
Christians entered it while the opulent and arrogant among them
opposed it. They were resultantly not able to enter the kingdom
of heaven. What I have said can be proved by many statements
of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qurn as well as the history
of the Christians. However, I cannot go into detail. The issue has
been fully dealt with in our book F Malakt Allh among
others. I have gone this far in this discussion because it could not
be ignored completely. Nor is it possible to deal with this issue
exhaustively. An exhaustive analysis of the issue will be offered
in its proper place.89
To recapitulate, I say that the absolute prohibition of taking an
oath ascribed to Jesus Christ (sws) was specifically meant for
those following his way of life. I do acknowledge that he did
prohibit oath taking to his followers. It is understandable. If
someone decides to cut himself completely from social life and
sets off expecting the kingdom of heaven to set in, and in doing
this he does not take rest, does not seek revenge when beaten,
abused, or oppressed, does not interact with people so that he is
forced to argue with any then what will make him take an oath?
His reply to people cannot be other than plain yes, or no. Oaths,
witnesses, claims and proofs; all are irrelevant to him.
This prohibition relates to a particular aspect of the oaths,
89. The issue has been discussed in detail in the book F Malakt Allh.

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considering the muqsam alayhi. This is evident from the context


in which it occurs. I do not think that Jesus (sws) prohibited
taking an oath on religious facts too. We see that he himself,
according to the Gospel of John, called to witness God to the
veracity of his prophethood. An oath, after all, is brought to
evidence something.
Similarly we see in the Qurn that there are oaths ascribed to
the pious Christians who had been sent forth to preach and
propagate the truth. It has been said in Srah Ysn (Q. 36):
They said: Our Lord knows that we are, indeed His
messengers to you; and our duty is only plain delivery of the
message. (Q 36: 16-7)
The words, our God knows in the above verse quite
obviously is but a form of swearing an oath as has already been
explained.
For a seeker of truth this and what has been explained in the
previous sections suffices as explanation to the questions and
doubts enumerated in the beginning of the book. I have tried to
adopt the view that is reconcilable with reason and received
knowledge and can be confirmed by the Torah, Gospels, and the
Qurn. All the apparent points of difference between these
pertain to the aspect of perfection and detail, determination of
the balanced approach from extremes, and consideration of
differences in the minute points of applications of directives
wherein it is difficult to see what is harmful and what is
beneficial. We have observed how the Qurn considers such
fine aspects in oaths. We cannot cover all the directives of the
sharah in this respect. However, I will turn to desirable and
undesirable oath formulas. This will conclude the discussion on
the meanings and aspects of oaths. It will bring to light another
aspect of rhetorical beauty of the Qurn and will create in the
readers a desire to study Arabic language. Note that the lack of
knowledge of the Arabic language is religiously harmful for us.
_______________

Section: 21

Proper Use of Different Oath Formulas


The experts in Arabic language have made it clear that no two
words are exactly synonymous. Each word, among a group of
synonyms, conveys a signification peculiar and confined to it
alone. The scholars of Arabic language have discovered that the
synonymous words used in the Qurn too have different shades
of meaning that can only be detected by a keen analyst. The
word riyh, for example, has been used for winds, in the context
of benefits, and the use of word rh (singular of riyh) with
reference to its harm. Similarly, the Qurn uses amtr the plural
form of matar (rain) in context of punishment. Application of
different words for swearing oaths in different places is a similar
practice. I will point out some of the particularities of different
expressions of oath.
I have mentioned in the eighteenth section that some kinds of
swearing oaths injure the honor of the oath-taker and harm his
dignity. The Qurn has indicated this fact by employing specific
words for the oaths of the hypocrites, who obviously belittled
themselves by opting for taking an oath in every petty affair. An
honorable man would not go for it at similar occasions. We see
that in Srah al-Barah (Q. 9) oaths of the hypocrites have been
referred to seven times. No word other than half has been used in
any of these instances in consideration of the untruth and
meanness of the hypocrites. The word half has not been used in
the Qurn for swearing an oath except in places where it
denotes meanness and untruth of the person swearing the oath.
Besides, the general use of the word in Arabic too implies this
signification. Nbighah, intending to adulate Numn b.
Mundhar and express humility before him, says:
I swore an oath (halaftu) and have not left you with a chance

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to doubt me. Indeed, a man finds no way to cheat God.90


By using the word half for an oath, he has brilliantly articulated
his submission. This verse indeed is the finest expression of
humility and lowliness. Nbighah is known for being the most
eloquent man when he is awed by someone. It is usually said that
the best poet is Imru al-Qays when riding, Ash when jubilant,
Antarah when enraged and Nbighah when awed by someone.
If you have appreciated this particular signification of the
word, then it would be easy for you to understand its importance
in the religion. You will then avoid using the word half while
referring to Gods oaths. Many Muslim commentators and the
translators of the Torah frequently use the expression halafa
Allh bikadh (God swore by this and that). It should be
avoided.
For an understanding of the particular significations of other
oath formulas, you should refer to the seventh section of this
book. A careful reading of the section will allow you infer such
particular significations of these formulas from the discussion on
their meanings and different aspects. Here, the discussion
revolves around the fact that oaths are sometimes undesirable
and at other occasions they are desirable. So is the employment
of different oath formulas. The Qurn has condemned taking an
oath where they are to be avoided. It does not prohibit the
practice absolutely. The Qurn has guided us how to know
where taking an oath is desirable and where it is not. This has
been accomplished by using specific words of oaths. This
exhibits the excellence of the sharah of Islam which contains
explanation and detail of the law referred to in the following
verse of the Qurn:
We have sent down to you the Book to explain everything
and as guidance and a mercy and glad tidings to those who
submit. (Q 16:89)
_______________

90. Nbighah, Dwn, 17.

Section: 22

Conclusion
The above discussions relate to the Qurnic oaths in a general
way. Detailed dealing of the interpretation of the oath verses has
been provided in the commentary on the Qurn. Still however, I
have, in the organization of the sections and selection of
examples in them, pointed out to the essence of the oaths and
their true aspects. It needs to be appreciated that the main
objective of this book was to highlight a particular aspect of the
oaths to which people raised objections. Yet, however, at times I
have been forced to deal with some other relevant matters which
required elaboration. This made me expand the discussions till
the time the truth of the relevant matter was exposed and the
related doubts were cleared off. However, this achieved, I
hastened to the original discussion and abandoned the exhaustive
survey of that interrupting issue. Thus book combines two plans,
briefness and enlargement, flowing on two axis, brevity and
detail.
A hasty reader may blame me for excessive terseness at time
and for unnecessary prolongation at others. Such readers should
know that I have been forced to adopt this course of action by
the nature of the problem itself and its particular form. Besides, I
do not claim immunity from misstep and stumble. This should be
taken as my apology. I seek Gods kind forgiveness. He is the
most Merciful. All gratitude is due to God alone, the Lord of the
worlds.
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